Polish plane crash boosts PM Tusk
(Reuters) – The plane crash that killed Poland’s president and leading opposition politicians has removed at one stroke key opponents of Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO).
While a shocking blow to Poland’s body politic, analysts say constitutional mechanisms will ensure there is no power vacuum and there will not be any long-term impact on stability.
The crash will reinforce Tusk’s already considerable dominance of Polish politics and analysts say it may have relatively muted long-term consequences, though they also stress it is too early to predict the full impact of such an unprecedented accident on the national psychology.
President Lech Kaczynski, his top aides, the central bank governor and seven lawmakers from the main opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS) were among 96 people killed when their plane crashed in thick fog near Smolensk in western Russia.
“Today’s plane crash will raise concerns about (Polish) political stability and relations with Russia, but the outlook is reassuring regarding the institutional transition for the presidency and the central bank,” said Preston Keat, an analyst for Eurasia Group, a London-based political risk consultancy.
“The leading political and policy actors will move quickly to stabilize the situation.”
Kaczynski, 60, and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads PiS and was not aboard the plane, have spearheaded opposition to Tusk’s pro-market economic policies, his embrace of the European Union and his push for early adoption of the euro.
Lech Kaczynski, known for his combative nationalism, his devout Roman Catholicism and deep distrust of both the EU and of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, had been expected to seek a fresh five-year mandate in a presidential election due this autumn.
Under Polish law, parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski is now acting president and the election will take place by the end of June. Komorowski, 58, is the candidate of Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) and opinion polls have shown him winning the post.
The candidate of the small leftist opposition SLD, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, also died in Saturday’s crash.
In Poland, the government holds most power but the president has a say in foreign policy and can veto laws. Kaczynski irked Tusk’s government by blocking media, health and pension reforms.
“When all the dust has settled, I don’t think this tragedy will fundamentally change Poland’s situation economically or in any other way,” one government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
“There are a lot of uncertainties at the moment. People are very upset, but the risks seem relatively limited. Poland’s democracy should prove its resilience. The constitution states clearly what must happen,” he said.
“The presidential election campaign will be difficult, but I expect people will show restraint in these circumstances,” the government official said.
Many expect an upsurge of sympathy for Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS, a populist right-wing party, in coming weeks but it is far from clear whether this will translate into votes.
PiS has been trailing Tusk’s PO in opinion polls, with about 25 percent support against 50 percent for the ruling party. Poland is due to hold a national election next year.
“The point is that (Lech) Kaczynski was set to be voted out later this year and all the aides who died with him would have been out of power too,” said Krzysztof Bobinski, head of the Unia & Polska Foundation, a pro-EU think-tank.
“This disaster could provoke a generational change in PiS as Jaroslaw will be shattered. He was very close to his brother. He has completely dominated PiS but this could now be an opportunity for younger party members to come forward.”
The devastating blow to PiS is not confined to party politics. Among those killed in Saturday’s crash were Kaczynski allies such as central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and Janusz Kurtyka, head of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), which supervises Poland’s communist-era archives.
Both Skrzypek and Kurtyka had both been thorns in the Tusk government’s side, on economic issues and on Poland’s communist past respectively.
Internationally, Kaczynski’s death is unlikely to have much impact. After a long delay, Kaczynski had been forced to sign the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which was strongly backed by the Tusk government. The treaty revamps the bloc’s institutions.
Kaczynski, a staunch defender of Ukraine and Georgia against what he called Russia’s “new imperialism,” also found himself largely sidelined by the Tusk government as it worked to build better economic and political relations with Moscow.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jon Hemming)