Poland prepared Thursday for the inauguration of its new conservative president, Lech Kaczynski, who rose to power on promises to fight corruption, boost the economy and put the country's communist past further behind it. Soldiers erected flag poles in Warsaw for a military parade that will form part of Friday's celebrations. It is set to be the most pomp-filled transition of power in decades, reflecting Kaczynski's nationalist and traditionalist inclinations.
Kaczynski, who has served as Warsaw's mayor since 2002, won a presidential runoff Oct. 23, a month after the Law and Justice party, led by his twin brother Jaroslaw, won parliamentary elections.
Kaczynski replaces ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, completing Poland's transition from left to right. He has pledged to combat corruption, remove former communists from positions of influence and protect welfare benefits even as he works for economic growth. The new president also is expected to continue Kwasniewski's close alliance with the U.S.
But questions remain as the 56-year-old former Solidarity activist begins his five-year term. Many Poles worry about too much power being concentrated in one family. Some already fear that Jaroslaw, seen as the strategist behind the party and the brothers' political successes, is guiding the new government of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.
"As far as politics and decision-making go, our president isn't named Lech Kaczynski but Jaroslaw Lech Kaczynski," Jan Rokita, a leading opposition lawmaker, complained to the Rzeczpospolita newspaper this week. "There is no doubt we will have a double president." Kaczynski and the new government favor traditional Roman Catholic values and oppose the legalization of gay marriage. As mayor, Kaczynski drew criticism from human rights groups for banning gay rights demonstrations in the capital.
In foreign policy, Kaczynski is expected to continue Poland's strong friendship with Washington. A decision about whether to continue keeping Polish troops in Iraq is expected during the first days of his presidency. However, Kaczynski also inherits strained ties with Russia. The never-easy relationship has hit new lows over the past year following Poland's support during Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" for pro-Western presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
At first glance Kaczynski, who has often talked tough on Russia, would seem an odd choice to mend these ties. But many observers hope that toughness and his stance as a dissident during the communist era will make Poland a partner Moscow can respect. Outgoing President Kwasniewski, as an ex-communist, faced sharp criticism from critics over any concession to Moscow, reports the AP. N.U.