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Poland: Parliamentary Electoral Campaign Sharpens

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 2 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Politics in Poland are getting "curiouser and curiouser" in the run-up to a parliamentary elections three weeks from now. But the outcome of this contest is likely merely to reinforce the existing political cleavages rather than bring stability.

In the most recent development, President Aleksander Kwasniewski yesterday sued two newspapers, which recently alleged that he had maintained contacts with a Russian spy three years ago. Kwasniewski is not running, but the allegations against this former communist minister-turned center-left politician are seen as part of a right-wing effort to discredit all post-communist groups ahead of the polls.

Kwasniewski's lawsuit was made public a day after the Solidarity Election Action (AWS), main right-wing challenger to the ruling post-communist-led left wing coalition, announced its electoral program.

Consisting of 21 points -- a symbolic throwback to the 21 demands made by striking workers in August 1980 that provided the basis for the first independent labor movement in all communist countries and eventually paved the way to the collapse of that system of government -- the program identified with "the social teaching of the Catholic Church" and called for wide-ranging changes in economic and social policies. The program also called for amending the newly adopted constitution by introducing "pro-family" orientation in the laws.

Three days ago, former President Lech Walesa appealed to political groups rooted in the Solidarity movement to join forces behind three established formations: the AWS, the centrist Union of Freedom and the radically right-wing Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, to defeat the leftists and former communists. Walesa said that all other anti-communist opposition parties should get out of the race.

It is unlikely that Walesa's appeal will be heeded by anyone. It was immediately rebuked by the Labor Union, a relatively small left-wing party with direct roots in Solidarity movement. The union said that Walesa lacked political standing to make such appeals.

Walesa is reported to plan setting up a new political party after the elections.

In the meantime, the electoral campaign is heating up, with separate groups and individual politicians competing in accusations against each other and promises extended to the public.

Last week, the Confederation of Polish Employers, a prominent lobby group, publicly complained that managers of state-controlled firms are being pressed to contribute funds to parties and politicians running in the elections. The group said that both the ruling left-wing coalition and right-wing opposition groups have been involved in these efforts. There is no sign, however, that this complaint will carry enough weight to stop those efforts.

If anything, the campaign has once again brought into the surface a deep divide separating two seemingly irreconcilable camps: the former communists and their long-term opponents.

The former communists are found in a variety of groups, including many regional and trade labor unions, many state bureaucrats and a considerable number of newly rich entrepreneurs. They are represented in national politics by the Social Democratic Alliance (SLD), a senior partner in the coalition government with the Peasant Party.

During the four years of the post-communist dominated government, most posts in the administration, the justice system, the armed forces and the security services have been filled by the followers of the coalition. Likewise, the government have granted licenses for television networks to their supporters and have provided them with opportunities to profit from privatization of state companies. Political opponents or even sympathizers of other groups have been simply removed or ignored.

These pracatices merely reinforced the long-existing, anti-communist tendencies among large sectors of the population. The opponents of the government have consolidated themselves during recent months by forming AWS, an umbrella group of some 30 or more small nationalistic and Christian parties led by the right-wing of the Solidarity labor union.

An even more radically anti-communist position has been taken by the populist Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, which had focused its appeal on demands for removal of former communist officials from government posts and a thorough re-examination of privatization practices.

The centrist Union of Freedom and left-wing non-communist Labor Union also profess anti-communist attitudes, but they insist on the need for speedy transition to market economy, and the necessity to preserve democratic methods of government.

The recent findings of nationwide opinion polls show AWS leading narrowly SLD (26 to 25 percent), followed by the Union of Freedom (11 percent) and the Peasant Party (10 percent). The National Pensioners Party, an essentially single-interest group, and the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland have each seven percent, with the Labor Union gaining six percent. There is a five percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

If those percentages do not change, Poland's new parliament will be again hopelessly divided, making the formation of a stable government exceedingly difficult.