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Poland: Personal, Political Clashes Make Solidarity Victory Shaky

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, 25 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The official results of the Polish parliamentary elections confirm the victory of the Solidarity Election Action (AWS) over the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), but fail to dispel lingering uncertainty about Polish politics.

Released today by the Electoral Commission, a watchdog agency, the figures show AWS with a third (33.83 percent) of the vote, followed by SLD with about a fourth (27.13 percent), and the Freedom Union (UW) (13.37 percent), the Peasant Party (PSL) (7.31 percent) and the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland (ROP) (5.56 percent) with smaller shares.

Several other minor parties failed to reach the five percent threshold required to enter parliament.

The commission said that the official distribution of seats in the 460-member lower chamber (Sejm) will be made public later today. But the media calculate that the AWS will have 200 seats, the SLD 164, the UW 60, the PSL 27 and the ROP five. The remaining four seats are to go to ethnic minority groups.

The outcome signals the end of the post-communist government based on a coalition of the SLD and the PSL.

The new government will also be a coalition, almost certainly led by the AWS. An umbrella group of more than 30 mostly right wing parties, the AWS is clustered around the Solidarity labor union. Some of its constituent parties, and Solidarity itself, were once represented in the parliament but lost in the 1993 general elections. They have now made a spectacular comeback.

The AWS advocates traditional patriotic and Catholic family values -- it has strongly opposed liberalized abortion legislation -- but is cautious about market-oriented economic changes in fear of their immediate social consequences.

The AWS has already started preliminary coalition talks with the PSL and the ROP, in which it finds some programmatic similarities, and the much larger but more secular and economically liberal UW.

The Freedom Union has roots in the Solidarity movement of the 1980s, but the group moved away after it opposed Lech Walesa's presidential candidacy in 1990. The UW's leaders were at the forefront of initial market reforms -- the party's current top leader, Leszek Balcerowicz, is recognized as the architect of the country's big bang strategy of economic change -- and insist on quick privatization and free market rules.

The AWS's choice of partners in the eventual coalition could have major implications for Poland's future politics. This choice is difficult because the group includes proponents both of the right-wing and strongly Catholic AWS-PSL-ROP coalition (possible 232 seats) who are strongly opposed to any ties to the secular and liberal UW, and of the centrist AWS-UW alliance (260 seats) who would reject any approach to the PSL and the ROP.

In this situation, any decisive coalition move could weaken the very cohesion of the AWS itself.

And there is also an important problem of personalities. The AWS is led by Marian Krzaklewski, a charismatic politician and energetic organizer. He has emerged during recent months as a major figure in Polish politics, gaining considerable popularity and prestige. But he has also developed what many regard as an arrogant streak, publicly brushing off rivals but also possible partners.

Krzaklewski has already had verbal wrestling with Balcerowicz, who has also acquired loyal public following during the campaign and maintains strong views on what should be done in Poland to speed up development.

This rivalry has already been used by old Solidarity hero and former president Walesa to offer mediation between the two and thus gain a foothold in creating a potential future coalition. This, in turn, appears to have annoyed Krzaklewski, who sees himself as an undisputed current Solidarity leader.

To make matters still more complicated, one should not dismiss the influence of the post-communist SLD. While losing power in the government, the SLD could claim a major increase in popularity. The party gained six percentage points, that is about 20 percent more votes, in this election than in the previous one in 1993, solidifying its position on the political scene.

Gaining a major share of seats in the new parliament, the SLD has enough power to stop any government decision or legislation threatening to alter the current legal and institutional systems. This makes it impossible to change the constitution -- one of the AWS's pet electoral projects -- or pass a strict anti-abortion law. The SLD could, in effect, emerge as a significant force restraining policies of the future governments.

And, in the case of internal splits within the Solidarity-led parties and groups, the post-communists could provide an alternative basis for any different coalitions. The SLD leaders have already publicly hinted at such a possibility.

The new parliament convenes on October 20. President Aleksander Kwasniewski will then have two weeks to nominate a prime minister and present him or her for parliamentary approval.