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Poland: Parties Maneuver Before Elections

Prague, 28 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Polish Sejm -- parliament's lower chamber -- rejected today a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

The motion was submitted last week by the Peasant Party (PSL), a junior member of the left-wing coalition government, after the majority of ministers from the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), failed to heed the Peasants' demands for special moves to help farmers, the party's main constituents.

Several parliamentary opposition groups eventually supported the motion, suddenly creating a possibility that it could pass and the government coalition would collapse a little more than three weeks before the scheduled parliamentary elections on September 21.

This, in itself, might have had no immediate consequence for the operations of the government, as President Aleksander Kwasniewski -- also an ex-communist -- has said that he would refuse to dismiss the prime minister even if the motion were accepted. But it would certainly humiliate the SLD, possibly affecting its electoral chances.

The likelihood of passage was averted at the last moment two days ago, when the two coalition partners reached an agreement that the government would guarantee bank loans to purchase more grain from farmers than had been initially planned.

The Peasants promptly announced that they would abstain during the vote on their own motion.

This bizarre episode generally was seen as a tactical maneuver by the Peasants to gain electoral support among their traditional constituents, since their popularity has declined after four years in government.

But it also illustrated a situation in which the parties are relying increasingly on political maneuvering and tricks rather than programs and policies in their campaigns.

Two days ago, Roman Catholic Cardinal Jozef Glemp attacked in a religious sermon at a mass service in Warsaw what he called the "athiest" policies of the current government and parliament, indirectly hinting at a desirability of change within these institutions. The church has professed political neutrality, but some of its leaders seem inclined openly to take sides. Such opinions are then used by separate parties to advance their cause.

Last week, two newspapers regarded as close to a nationalist-right wing alliance published allegations that President Kwasniewski had met in 1994, a year before he won presidential elections, with a known Soviet-Russian agent. The agent, Vladimir Alganov, was a resident intelligence operative in Poland until 1992. He was named in allegations raised in 1995 against former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, who in consequence was forced to resign.

Kwasniewski rejected the allegations and threatened to bring legal charges against the papers. But while the resolution of the case could take considerable time, its immediate political effect was to link the ex-communists with spying for Russia. This may support a message spread by right-wing groups that the former communists cannot be trusted.

The elections seem to have provided another opportunity to intensify the lingering efforts to identify those who might have collaborated with secret agencies of the communist regime. Under a law that took effect earlier this month, candidates to parliament must declare in writing whether they were ever informers or agents of those bodies.

Admissions will be noted at the ballots. Those who fail to acknowledge past associations and are eventually proved liars will be banned from elective and appointed offices for 10 years.

So far, of the more than 6,600 candidates running for 460 Sejm seats and 519 running for 100 Senate seats, only 11 have declared themselves as collaborators. None has resigned his or her candidacy.

Whether all those maneuvers, charges and allegations will affect the vote is still uncertain.

The latest opinion polls give the nationalist-right wing alliance (AWS) led by Solidarity labor union a narrow advantage of 23 percent over the ex-communist SLD with 22 percent. These two groups are followed by the Peasant Party with 11 percent, the centrist Union of Freedom and a maverick pensioners' alliance with 8 percent each, and the non-communist leftist Labor Union as well as the extreme right wing Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland (ROP) with 6 percent each.

Were these findings reflected in the vote, the future parliament would have no majority group and the government would of necessity be a coalition one. The only remaining question is which parties or groups will be able to muster enough strength to form that government.