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Poland Appoints New Leftist Prime Minister

Prague, Feb. 1 (RFE/RL) - Former communist Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz was today appointed by Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski to form a new cabinet.

Under the constitution, a prime minister-designate has 14 days to form a cabinet and submit it to a vote of confidence in parliament.

Cimoszewicz was a low-ranking Communist Party member until the party disbanded in January 1990. But, while most other communists subsequently joined the newly formed "Social Democratic Party" (SDRP), Cimoszewicz remained outside it.

However, he became actively involved in the electoral and parliamentary activities of the post-communist "Democratic Left Alliance" (SLD). The SLD is an umbrella organization of more than 20 post-communist labor and youth groups formed by and around the "Social Democratic Party" for purposes of broadening its political representation.

In 1990, Cimoszewicz stood as the "alliance" presidential candidate, but gained only nine percent of the vote, and failed to advance to the second round of the election.

He returned to political prominence in 1993 following the leftist victory at the parliamentary ballot. In the first leftist coalition government, formed by "Peasant Party" leader Waldemar Pawlak in October of that year, Cimoszewicz served as a deputy prime minister and justice minister. He lost both posts in the cabinet reshuffle in March 1995, but became a deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm. During the last presidential election, Cimoszewicz led Kwasniewski's campaign.

In recent years, Cimoszewicz has successfully developed an image of a modern and liberal social democrat. He has advocated a clear separation between the church and the state, supported women's issues, fought against corruption in government - openly condemning practices of several prominent leftist politicians - and has consistently supported Poland's drive toward membership in NATO and the European Union. He also has repeatedly argued that Poland needs a broad political realignment to neutralize historical divisions between the communists and the others. He has said that the new alliances should be rooted in common interpretations of Poland's current interests.

While openly admitting that he differs from his "alliance" colleagues "on many issues," Cimoszewicz has maintained contacts with influential leaders of the democratic opposition, particularly among the left wing of the centrist "Freedom Union." The Union today criticized Kwasniewski's decision to designate an "alliance" politician as head of a new cabinet, but stopped short of ruling out some kind of cooperation with the new government.

The focus of political attention is now on the make up of the new cabinet. The government has, since October 1993, been based on the coalition of the post-Communist and "Peasant" parties. This is to continue now.

Several post-communist politicians said yesterday that cabinet changes will be "limited," implying continuity of personnel. But it is known that the "Peasants" party has demanded the replacement of at least two key post-communist ministers - Justice Minister Jerzy Jaskiernia and Privatization Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek.

Jaskiernia has been strongly criticized by the Peasants Party, as well as all opposition groups, for allegedly biased handling of Kwasniewski's electoral problems and investigations into spy allegations against Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. He is likely to leave the cabinet. Kaczmarek has apparently offended Peasant Party activists with his energetic approach to privatization. But post-communist leaders, including Kwasniewski himself, have insisted that he stays on the job.

Other changes are possible as well. Cimoszewicz is reported by the Polish media today to have hinted at the appointment of "two or three non-political ministers." No names have been mentioned, however.

The formation of a new cabinet could take several days. Negotiations between the coalition partners reportedly are continuing today.

But it seems already, with the selection of Cimoszewicz, that the post-communists may have taken a major step toward ending, or at least neutralizing, the long-lasting political crisis prompted by the Oleksy spy scandal.

Oleksy, who was recently elected chairman of the post-communist Social Democratic Party, has blamed his troubles on an alleged plot by Poland's secret services. But a parliamentary committee probing the services' role in the affair has found no grounds to assert the existence of any plot or conspiracy against Oleksy.