WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s president laid out his vision of a tolerant Poland rooted in its Christian traditions and appealed Tuesday for an end to political conflict as he inaugurated a new four-year term in the country’s parliament.
Andrzej Duda paid homage to Poland’s tradition of being a land of tolerance and a place where many ethnic and religious groups lived for centuries in relative harmony. He also paid tribute to the Roman Catholic and strong family traditions that he said have been so crucial to preserving the social fabric over a difficult history.
He noted that while the national identity is rooted in Catholicism, Poland remains home to those of many religions, including Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims and Jews.
“To me, everyone who has Poland in his heart is a Pole,” Duda said, in what appeared to be a rebuke against a strand of nationalism that excludes those who are not Catholic, represented by a new far-right party that has just entered parliament.
Duda also appealed to the lawmakers in the 460-seat lower house, or Sejm, to put an end to the tensions and divisions that have for many years defined political life.
“They say sometimes a fish rots from its head. The head is here,” said Duda, who has declared he will seek re-election in the nationwide presidential vote in the spring of 2020.
The president is elected separately from the parliamentary election.
In the presence of Duda and foreign ambassadors, Speaker Senior Antoni Macierewicz opened the gala session, knocking with an ornamented wooden staff on the floor three times. Those assembled then stood to sing the national anthem. After Duda’s speech the lawmakers took their oath of office one by one.
The parliamentary election on Oct. 13 gave a second term to the populist, conservative Law and Justice party, which won nearly 44% of the votes, more than any other party.
However, the results of the election also created some new complications for the party and its 70-year-old leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as it continues its plans to reshape the nation.
For one, the far-right party, Confederation, got almost 7% of the vote, winning 11 seats in the assembly.
Law and Justice had been pursuing a strategy to prevent any party arising in parliament to its right. That strategy had led Kaczynski and other leaders to try to appeal to the far right, and they even marched with them on Independence Day in 2018, something that has clearly backfired.
Also, while the ruling party captured a slim majority in the lower house, it lost control of the Senate, where opposition lawmakers now have 51 of the 100 seats. The Senate is much less powerful than the Sejm but appoints the heads of some key state bodies and can slow down legislation. It will hold its first sitting later Tuesday.
In another change, a left-wing alliance is also represented in parliament after a hiatus of four years after getting nearly 13% of the votes.
The choice of Macierewicz as Speaker Senior was controversial, even though the role is mostly honorary and symbolic. The appointment was in recognition of his senior status and anti-regime activity under communism, which ended in 1989.
His critics, though, point to his highly controversial move of revealing in 2006 the identity of dozens of current and former agents for military intelligence, some of whom were serving at the time in sensitive places like Afghanistan and were forced to return to Warsaw. The aim was to purge the system of those with ties to the previous communist era.
Macierewicz was also the leading proponent of a theory that the plane crash in Russia in 2010 that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others was not an accident, as an official investigation had determined. He had suggested Russian involvement, something never proven and considered by many to be a conspiracy theory.