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Poland: Center-Right Victory Signals End Of Post-Communist Government

Warsaw, 23 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Solidarity Election Action (AWS), a center-right electoral coalition of more than 30 small parties and groups led by the Solidarity labor union, appears to have won the parliamentary election yesterday, defeating the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

The turnout is said to reach about 59 percent of the electorate.

According to preliminary results based on the exit poll count, the AWS won between 32 and 34 percent of the vote, while the SLD had about 27 percent. The centrist Freedom Union (UW) came in third with more than 13 percent.

These three were followed by the Peasant Party (PSL) with about seven percent of the vote, and the Movement for the Renovation of Poland (ROP) with a little more than five percent.

Several other parties running in the contest failed to gain the minimum five percent of the vote required to enter parliament.

The final official results will be available tomorrow.

The outcome signals the end of the post-communist government based on a coalition of the SLD and the PSL. "The era of post-communist rule is ending," said Bronislaw Geremek, an UW leader. He said that the Poles "have created an opportunity for the Solidarity camp to take power."

The new government is most likely to be formed by a coalition of the AWS and the UW, the two groups rooted in the initial solidarity movement of the 1980s, but currently divided on several programmatic issues.

The AWS advocates traditional Catholic family values -- it has strongly opposed liberalized abortion legislation -- and is cautious about liberal market-oriented economic policies in fear of their immediate social consequences. It supports Poland's entry into the European Union, but wants to set conditions that could slow down the process of accession.

The UW is more secular -- many of its members and leaders supported the liberalization of abortions -- and insists on quick privatization and free-market rules. Its leaders were at the forefront of the initial market reforms in Poland -- UW's top leader, Leszek Balcerowicz, is recognized as the architect of the country's move toward free market.

During recent years, the UW has cooperated with the post-communist government on several important legislative projects, including a new constitution. The AWS was strongly opposed to the charter, seeing it as an encroachment on Catholic teachings.

The two groups are forced by circumstances to cooperate, however, with the UW having emerged as an indispensable partner to any future government coalition. But the negotiations on this are certain to be difficult.

In the initial statement of intention, the AWS leader, Marian Krzaklewski, told the nationwide television audience that "Solidarity's program will have to be the axis for a new coalition" only to be reminded by Geremek in a separate program that "no one can form a government without the UW."

A rejection by AWS of any compromise on the program and/or composition of the future government could well push the UW in the arms of the SLD. This is a very unlikely prospect, following Geremek's firm assertion that the UW does not want to join the post-communists in government, but theoretically possible. The SLD has repeatedly said during the electoral campaign that it would willingly join the UW, as the two do not have major programmatic differences.

It is quite apparent that the seemingly inevitable government change can create new major problems in the country's politics.

These problems could be compounded by the recent emergence of new popular political leaders, who were pushed to the national attention by the electoral campaigns, but are certain to develop broader ambitions.

Perhaps the most significant is the nationwide recognition given to Solidarity leader and undisputed head of the AWS, Marian Krzaklewski.

A labor activist with background in high-tech engineering, Krzaklewski has outshone during recent years all other Solidarity activists, including the legendary Solidarity leader and former president Lech Walesa. Krzaklewski has also proved himself as an excellent organizer, gaining popularity and prestige during the campaign. But perhaps as a result of this popularity, Krzaklewski has developed what many regard as an arrogant streak, publicly brushing off rivals but also potential partners. This may turn into a serious political liability in the months or years to come.

Another "newcomer" to direct politics is the UW's Balcerowicz. Known as an economic technocrat with professorial manners, Balcerowicz has gradually grown into the role of a party leader and consummate politician. It is under his leadership that the UW, which had once been regarded as the "government" formation - only to approach political self-destruction as a result of internal divisiveness - has clearly regained the lost ground. Balcerowicz is now regarded by many as the most serious candidate for prime minister in a new government.

By law, a new government could be sworn in only after the president selects a politician capable of winning a parliamentary acceptance. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that he would call the new parliament into session a month form now (Oct 20), giving ample time to various parties to negotiate a new coalition.