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How New Is The New Polish Cabinet?

Prague, Feb. 9 (RFE/RL) - Poland has a new cabinet but serious questions remain whether its policies will differ much from those conducted by the previous team.

The cabinet was put together by Prime Minister designate Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz after a week of intense negotiations between the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party. The two groups have been in a parliamentary coalition since October 1993, when they won a majority of seats in the popular ballot.

Cimoszewicz succeeds Jozef Oleksy, who headed the government for nine months until he was forced to resign last week, following allegations that he had been passing sensitive information to Soviet and Russian intelligence agents since the early 1980s.

Two days ago, the Cimoszewicz-led cabinet was sworn in by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. It is expected to be formally approved by the parliament sometime next week.

Talking yesterday with western journalists, Cimoszewicz said that "the formation of a new government has huge significance." He went on to say that the new cabinet will continue policies of rapprochement with the West, and insisted that the entry into NATO and the European Union remains the government's top priority. He also said it would continue free market reforms of liberalization and privatization. The Polish media have carried similar reports on Cimoszewicz's declarations (today's "Gazeta Wyborcza" and "Rzeczpospolita").

Cimoszewicz has also said that his cabinet intends to enforce strict legal standards in public life, implying that the spying allegations against his predecessor will be scrupulously investigated. He has further said that the government will work to improve relations with the Catholic Church, which have been recently strained over differing views on abortion and ties to the Vatican.

Above all, Cimoszewicz has repeatedly hinted that he would consult with opposition groups on general issues of foreign and internal policy.

Cimoszewicz has openly acknowledged that the cabinet's main effort will be on neutralizing the potential political damage suffered by the leftist coalition as a result of the Oleksy "affair" in both its domestic and foreign standings. "The government will take initiatives that can reduce this tension," he said.

But it also apparent that his is not a cabinet ready to make major departures in policies. The political make-up of the new cabinet is an exact replica of the previous one. It is composed of six members of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance, eight "no-party" symphatizers of the post-communist group, and eight "peasants."

Moreover, the politically sensitive posts of the interior (Zbigniew Siemiatkowski) and justice (Leszek Kubicki) ministers remain in the hands of post-communist activists. They will supervise the investigation of the Oleksy case.

The all-important post of the minister charged with the supervision of the administrative operations of the entire government hierarchy, comprising both central and local agencies, passed into the hands of a veteran communist functionary, Leszek Miller, who was once involved in illegal financial dealings between the Polish and Soviet communist parties. The case has never been fully resolved.

But the formation of the new cabinet seems to have satisfied public expectations. At least for now. The Polish media ("Rzeczpospolita" and "Gazeta Wyborcza") today report that the post-communist party has recently reached the apogee of its popularity, winning more than 26 percent support in a nationwide sample. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.

More immediately important for the new cabinet is its standing with other countries, particularly the West. The Oleksy "affair" has clearly aroused concern among foreign governments. Cimoszewicz has acknowledged this.

He might have been encouraged, however, by recent assurances given by visiting U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke that the Oleksy case has not yet changed Washington's policy toward Poland. But Holbrooke also made clear that the case must be openly dealt with and fully explained.

Indeed, it is the conduct of policies rather than political personalities that will likely determine the fate of the new cabinet, both on domestic and foreign arenas.