New Polish leader will be decided after funeral

Poland will wait until after Sunday’s state funeral for President Lech Kaczynski to decide when to hold an early election to replace him.

Poland will wait until after Sunday’s state funeral for President Lech Kaczynski to decide when to hold an early election to replace him.

The ballot is a legal requirement to pick a successor to Mr Kaczynski, who was killed on Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia flying with politicians and other Polish elite to a commemoration of the murders of thousands of Second World War Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

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 autumn 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.

“There are three theoretical dates for the elections: June 6, 13 and 20,” said Lech Czapla, who oversees parliament’s administrative issues.

It was a further sign that while the country remains in mourning, there is a willingness to grapple again with possibly contentious political issues.

There also is 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 begin at 2pm. (1pm Irish time) with a Mass at St Mary’s Basilica.

The bodies of the first couple will then be carried in a funeral procession across the Old Town to the Wawel Cathedral.

Some Poles criticised 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 last night, carrying banners reading “Really worthy of kings?” and “Not to Wawel.”

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

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 scepticism 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 queue 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 Tu-154 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.

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