Poland's new President

Lech Kaczynski

2005 brought some big changes for Poland. Aleksander Kwasniewski ended his two terms as Polish president and handed over his office to his political opponent, Lech Kaczynski. Several weeks earlier, Kwasniewski's camp, and the liberals, lost the parliamentary elections, paving the way for the conservative Law and Justice Party to form a minority cabinet.

When the leftist leader Aleksander Kwasniewski defeated the Solidarity legend Lech Walesa in the presidential race 10 years ago many political observers at home and abroad saw this as an irony of history. After two terms as president, Kwasniewski rightly takes pride in being one of the major architects of historic changes in Poland's international position, symbolized by its membership in NATO and the European Union. His role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was acknowledged even by his political opponents. Konrad Schuller, the Warsaw correspondent of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, admits that his initial disappointment with Kwasniewski's election as president turned into a recognition of his role in European politics:

"Kwasniewski became a very important figure in Europe, somebody under whose presidency the relations to Europe and Germany were as good as never before. It was an irony of history that it's a post-communist in whose time these relationships to Europe and to Germany were the best we could ever dream of."

At the end of 2005 Aleksander Kwasniewski was replaced by the right-wing, conservative politician Lech Kaczynski in the presidential palace. At 56, he has a long record as a member of the anti-communist opposition and the Solidarity movement. In his inaugural speech to the National Assembly, he pledged to wipe out widespread corruption, stressing that the Polish state must be cleaned up and rebuilt. Marcin Sobczyk of the Warsaw Independent news service expects Kaczynski to be a strong president:

"Lech Kaczynski's political philosophy is: 'I want to be a strong man. I want to be seen as a strong man even if, perhaps this or that doesn't really work in my favour. And this is the kind of image I will propose. This is the kind of tough language that I'll speak. I'll be a little not exactly good with manners and nice talk, but an effective president definitely, or at least that kind of image."

Most Poles, including those who didn't vote for Kaczynski, say: let's give him a chance:

"I wouldn't say that I'm very pessimistic about his term. I think that he's a righteous man and that's why I guess he will try to do his best."

"I hope that he will bend over backwards so as to improve the Polish economy. And I do believe that he won't make any big mistakes. I am optimistic, but I do have some doubts. He's too conservative a man, but maybe he'll be flexible and things will get better."

"I am not really happy about it. Well, I think, we'll see what he's going to do. Let's give him a chance."

As a mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski drew strong criticism for banning gay pride parades in the capital. But most analysts expect that what not long many people described as Kaczynski's unwillingness to make compromises will give way to a more conciliatory approach. Independent commentator Krzysztof Mularczyk:

"He will go out of his way to try and build bridges rather than create any friction. However, of course, there are certain issues that he will want to push through. He will want to push through greater powers for the presidency, he will back his party and government to the hilt. And, of course, he will want certain reforms of the judiciary that he's been pushing through. Whereas the Kwasniewski presidency was very focused on foreign affairs, I think this one won't be. This presidency is going to be focused largely on domestic issues and much less on foreign affairs."

Initial declarations from the president suggest that foreign policy is likely to play a more prominent role than it had been expected. Plans for visits to the United States and Ukraine in a few weeks' time have already been announced.