- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WARSAW (AP) — Polish leaders have decided to wait until after Sunday’s state funeral for President Lech Kaczynski to decide when to hold an early election to replace him, But officials said June 20 now appears all but certain to be the date.

Under Polish law, such a ballot is required to pick a successor to Mr. Kaczynski, who was killed Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. He was traveling with many lawmakers and other Polish elite to a commemoration of the systematic executions of thousands of World War II Polish officers by Soviet secret police in and around the Katyn forest.

Mr. Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, were among 96 people killed in the crash. Investigators are pointing to human error as the cause.

Before the tragedy, the nation was scheduled to vote this fall for a new president, who serves as Poland’s commander in chief, for a five-year term. The Parliament and government, now led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, are chosen separately and do not face a new election.

With Mr. Kaczynski’s death an early presidential ballot has to be announced within two weeks of that date and take place within another 60 days.

Bronislaw Komorowski, the Parliament speaker and now acting president, said the date would be announced April 21 after funerals for the president and other victims of the crash.

Mr. Komorowski said party leaders in Parliament held consultations Wednesday and decided to wait with an announcement, given that two presidential candidates were killed, Mr. Kaczynski and Jerzy Szmajdzinski, a long-serving lawmaker and respected former defense minister who was to have represented the Democratic Left Alliance.

The most likely date for balloting appears to be June 20 because of a time line dictated by the constitution.

“If the date is not announced by Monday, then the elections will be held on June 20, according to the regulations,” said Lech Czapla, who oversees Parliament’s administrative issues.

A second round would be held two weeks later if no candidate musters at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

Though the country remains in deep mourning, Mr. Komorowski’s remarks show that officials were returning to day-to-day business of running the country. There was even a willingness to grapple with contentious issues.

There is a growing debate about whether Mr. Kaczynski and his wife should be interred at the 1,000-year-old Wawel Cathedral, the main burial site of Polish monarchs since the 14th century and more recent heroes, including the 20th-century Polish statesman and military leader Jozef Pilsudski.

Sunday’s state funeral will begin at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) with a Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, said. The bodies of the first couple then will be carried in a funeral procession across the Old Town to the Wawel Cathedral.

Some Poles criticized the decision to bury Mr. Kaczynski, whose combative style earned him many opponents, in a place reserved for the most esteemed of national figures.

Hundreds staged a protest in front of the archbishop’s residence in Krakow on Tuesday evening, carrying banners reading, “Really worthy of kings?” and “Not to Wawel.”

The protest raised the unsettling prospect of more protests during the state funeral, which will be attended by numerous world leaders, including President Obama and his wife, Michelle, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“I trust that the entire society will accept this decision with understanding,” Cardinal Dziwisz said. “During such occasions, we should unite, and never divide. Divisions serve no one.”

Mr. Kaczynski was a Catholic and patriot, making him popular among conservative voters. However, his opposition to gay rights and his zealousness in eliminating ex-communists from government jobs and the media drew opposition. His continued skepticism of historic foes Germany and Russia also drew criticism, particularly since Poland and Germany are strong allies today.

The debate comes as thousands more Poles mourning the loss of the first couple joined an enormous viewing line at the Presidential Palace to pay their respects to Mr. Kaczynski and his wife as their bodies lay in state.

Investigators have suggested that human error may have been to blame for Saturday’s crash. The Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft went down while trying to land in dense fog at Smolensk in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders.

They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane to attend a memorial in the Katyn forest for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s secret police.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday the plane appeared to have been functioning normally.

“Judging by preliminary analysis of data from the black boxes, there was no explosion or fire aboard the plane, and the engines were working until the collision,” Mr. Ivanov said in televised remarks.

The pilot was warned of bad weather in Smolensk and advised by air traffic controllers to land elsewhere, a diversion that would have delayed the Katyn observances. He was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36; the co-pilot was Maj. Robert Grzywna, also 36.

Traffic controller Anatoly Muravyev, a member of the Russian team that handled the plane, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that the crew ignored their warnings about worsening weather.

The crew “started landing with confidence and with no swerving,” Mr. Muravyev was quoted as saying, “but then the traffic controllers had doubts.”

He said the head controller three times ordered the plane to reattempt the landing and then advised the pilot to fly to another airport.

“The crew did not listen, although the controllers warned them about bad visibility and told them to get ready to fly to a reserve airport,” Mr. Muravyev said.

Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polish prosecutors still were reviewing data from the flight recorders and would discuss their findings Thursday.

Associated Press Writer Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.

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