Connect to share and comment

Poland grapples with loss of president, leaders

Air crash tragedy is unlikely to have significant impact on day-to-day functioning of country.

Under the Polish constitution, the president has a more ceremonial function than the prime minister, who is in charge of the government and actually runs the country. Kaczynski had engaged in a long series of disputes over his powers with Tusk, and had usually come off the worst against the popular government leader, leaving the presidency weaker than when he took office in 2005.

Kaczynski had been a controversial president, seen to be in thrall to his twin brother Jaroslaw and to the right-wing Law and Justice party that the two had created in 2001. His support in opinion polls had slipped to about 20 percent, and analysts had predicted that he would lose against Komorowski, the candidate of the ruling Civic Platform party, in elections originally scheduled for this fall.

It is unclear who will be the standard-bearer for Law and Justice in the presidential elections. The likeliest candidates are thought to be Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Zbigniew Ziobro, a popular former justice minister who is currently a member of the European Parliament.

The crash decimated the party's top leadership, which will make it difficult to organize before the snap presidential poll.

Kaczynski was a long-time activist in the anti-communist underground, and had played a role in the formation of the Solidarity trade union in 1980. He was a key negotiator in the transition to democratic rule in 1989, although he later fell out with Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Poland's president from 1990-1995.

Kaczynski was elected president in 2005, and concentrated on cultivating the memory of the losses Poland suffered in World War II, as well as warning against what he saw as dangers to Polish sovereignty from both Russia and Germany. He was a firm ally of the United States, and saw the U.S. as the ultimate guarantor of Poland's security.