Komorowski steps up to challenge of Polish presidency

Poland’s Bronislaw Komorowski was officially declared the country’s new president today comfortably defeating rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The electoral commission said that Komorowski won 53.01% of the vote to Mr. Kaczynski’s 46.99%.

The early voting was forced by a plane crash in April that killed President Lech Kaczynski, Kaczynski’s identical twin.

Komorowski’s election offered Poland’s pro-business ruling party an opportunity but also a challenge as it prepared to govern without the obstacle of a hostile head of state.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2011, the Civic Platform party of Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk must now show the country whether it can tackle major economic problems, including high debt and unemployment.

“Civic Platform! You now have total power,” the tabloid Fakt declared in large type on its front page today. “Show what you can do – you have a year!” Kaczynski had conceded defeat last night after exit polls predicted that his rival had won.

Komorowski has pledged to work with the government closely to support its program of modernizing and trimming the welfare state. Any painful changes could hurt Tusk in next year’s elections. Among reforms the government wants is an increase in the retirement age. Currently women can retire at 60 and men at 65.

Kaczynski, a relatively unpopular politician just months ago, made a run for the seat after his brother’s death and won significant support after shedding his combative image and benefiting from a surge of sympathy over the loss of his brother.

Memories of the chaotic government Jaroslaw Kaczynski led from 2006-2007 probably helped keep him from victory, but his strong showing has boosted his followers’ hopes that he might strengthen his showing in future elections.

Komorowski’s victory will be welcome news for leaders in Berlin and Brussels. Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a noted nationalist and euro skeptic, reluctant to adopt the euro or to cede much sovereignty to the EU. When he was prime minister, his government was often at loggerheads with officials in Brussels.

Both Kaczynski twins were also suspicious of Germany, and frequently made a political issue of the suffering that Germany inflicted on Poland during the Second World War.

Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, welcomed Komorowski’s election as “a strong pro-European signal.” He said that, in Komorowski, Berlin would have “a strong partner for (its) course of trust and cooperation.”

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