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Poland's Prime Minister Resigns, But Crisis Persists

Prague, Jan 25 (RFE/RL) - Polish Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy today submitted his resignation to President Aleksander Kwasniewski. This marked the end of the current cabinet, although Oleksy and his ministers are to stay as caretakers until a new government is formally appointed.

Under the law, Kwasniewski has to accept the resignation. He has two weeks to designate a replacement. The new prime minister will form another cabinet and present it for a vote of confidence in parliament.

Oleksy announced his intention to resign last night in a nationwide television address, after military prosecutors had said that they would open a formal investigation into allegations he had spied for Moscow. Oleksy is a former communist official who turned social-democrat after the collapse of the communist system more than six years ago.

Those allegations were made public five weeks ago when former Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski, a declared anti-communist, told the parliament in a televised speech that Oleksy had passed state secrets to Soviet and Russian agents since the early 1980s.

Oleksy has repeatedly denied the charges, although he admitted "social contacts" with the Moscow officials. Instead, he blamed Poland's secret services for staging a political provocation against him and his party. The prosecutors are now to determine whether Oleksy should be charged with espionage.

In the meantime, the spying affair has led to a major political crisis, prompting speculation in the media that Poland's other post-communist social democrats might have also been linked to Moscow intelligence. Oleksy's attacks on the secret services only served to exacerbate the crisis.

Oleksy's resignation is not likely to end the crisis, but it is certain to change its political character by shifting the focus from the spying scandal to general politics.

The main issue now is the formation of a new cabinet. Until now the government has been formed by a coalition of post-communists and the Peasant Party, with the post-communists maintaining a dominant position as senior partner.

According to Polish media reports, the s Peasant Party has been demanding more influence in a new cabinet. Several politicians from the party, including former prime minister Waldemar Pawlak, have suggested that the it should now take the post of prime minister itself. The post-communists have rejected those suggestions.

But, it is clear that the Oleksy's case has already affected the post-communists. Changes in the respective positions of the coalition partners could be in the offing.

Yesterday, President Kwasniewski was reported to have chaired a strategy meeting with a group of close advisers, but also some ranking Peasant Party politicians. No details have been provided. Instead new rumors have surfaced that Jozef Zych, current speaker of the lower house of parliament, might be considered for the prime minister's post.

Other names mentioned included Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko, and deputy Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Both men are former members of the defunct communist party, but have stayed until now away from any clear party identification.

It is also certain that several current ministers will lose their jobs. Some of them have been strongly and repeatedly criticized by opposition groups for allegedly politicizing their agencies. They might now be left out of the new cabinet to placate the critics. But there is little prospect of a wholesale change in the political composition of the government. This has been demanded by the opposition politicians, some of whom have even called for new elections - and particularly, by former President Lech Walesa. However, such demands could amount to little more than political rhetoric, as there is little public support for the opposition parties and groups.

Neither the post-communists, who are currently the largest group in the 446-seat parliament with 168 seats, nor the Peasant Party, which holds 130 seats, appear interested in an early ballot.

And so, the immediate prospects suggest the continuation of the current leftist coalition, although the make up of the cabinet is certain to change somewhat.

But this also means that the political crisis brought by the Oleksy affair is likely to continue, fed by an atmosphere of suspicion that has long marked relations between the post-communist groups and Poland's other political parties. It's all not likely to end any time soon.