By Michael Johnston of ETF Database

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Polish president Lech Kaczynski died Saturday morning when his plane crashed on landing outside the western Russian city of Smolensk. Kaczynski was on his way to memorial services at Katyn, the site of a massacre of more than 20,000 Poles by Soviet agents in the 1940s. Also on board the plane, which was making its fourth attempt to land in heavy fog, were the president of the National Bank of Poland and the army chief of staff.

In accordance with the Polish constitution, the Speaker of the lower house of Parliament becomes the interim head of state upon the president's death, and must call for early presidential elections within two weeks. The elections must then take place within two months of the president's death. Bronislaw Komorowski, who is expected to be a candidate in elections that would normally take place in the fall, is the current speaker of the Sejm.

Kaczynski Legacy

The tragedy could be a setback for one of Europe's healthiest and fastest-growing economy. The Market Vectors Poland ETF ( PLND) finished Friday up about 8.5% on the year, putting it more than 700 basis points ahead of the Vanguard European ETF ( VGK). Poland is the world's 18th largest economy, and one of the best examples of a country that successfully transitioned from a centrally-planned economy to a capitalist market-based economy. Because a significant portion of Poland's GDP comes from the local economy, the country has held up relatively well as uncertainty has swirled around the rest of Europe. Read more about Poland ETF here.

Poland's economic growth has been fueled by a growing domestic consumer market and supported by sound economic policies that have encouraged foreign investment and kept inflation in check. Under the Polish constitution, the president has less power than the prime minister, but still maintains a significant say in foreign policy. After his election in 2005, Lech appointed his twin brother Jaroslaw as prime minister. Kaczynski "was a controversial figure on the world stage but his right-wing stance on many issues found ready reception among many Poles, especially traditionalist and rural voters," wrote the BBC. "Throughout his political career, he was not afraid to appeal to populist sentiments."

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