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Poland: The New Center-Right Government Gets Down To Business

Prague, 12 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - Seven weeks after they won the parliamentary elections, the Polish center-right parties yesterday formally gave the green light to their government.

Voting yesterday on a confidence motion, the Sejm (lower house) backed the newly formed government of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek by 260 to 173, with two abstentions. The vote largely corresponded to the political divisions within the Sejm, in which the coalition of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) is confronted by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Peasant Party (PSL).

The vote followed a lengthy debate on Buzek's inaugural program address, in which he promised to promote economic growth, combat inflation, reduce the budget- and current-account deficit, complete privatization of state enterprises within four years and restore property sized by Communist governments, overhaul the health and pension plans and increase funding of educational institutions.

Commenting on the address, Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that it contained an impressive list of promises, but they were no more than that. Kwasniewski noted that the address failed to explain the ways of paying for them.

Leszek Miller, head of the post-communist parliamentary opposition, was even more critical, saying that the Buzek's speech was "too general" and included "a lot of contradictions." Miller said also that his group will closely watch the government's actions.

The post-communists will not be the only ones to do so. Dozens of AWS deputies have already indicated that they would decide only on a case-by-case basis whether to support their own government (31 of them have even signed a statement to that effect). Most of these dissidents belong to small, but radical, Christian parties, which allied with the Solidarity trade union for electoral purposes.

Several AWS nationalist deputies failed to show up for the confidence vote to protest the AWS leadership's decision to give important posts in the government to the more liberal and secular UW.

There is little doubt that such dissent will continue in the weeks and months to come, straining the AWS' political cohesion and testing the authority of its leaders.

This may particularly affect the position of Marian Krzaklewski, Solidarity's chairman and dominant figure in the AWS's triumphal electoral campaign. Krzaklewski declined any direct role in the government, opting for chairmanship of the AWS parliamentary caucus.

Krzaklewski told a new conference in Gdansk yesterday that he was about to initiate steps to register the Solidarity-based AWS as a new political party rooted in Christian values. An application to register the new party is to be deposited today with a Warsaw court. A few weeks ago the former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa also registered a new party with the same political profile.

It is generally assumed that Krzaklewski is already positioning himself for future presidential race in three years time. Possible conflicts within the AWS itself and eventual tension between the AWS parliamentary group and the government will test his leadership qualities. His failure to impose and maintain discipline could easily cripple any future presidential plans.

The parliamentary confidence vote crowned the process of the formal establishment of the AWS/UW coalition government, which had earlier been approved by the two parties and sworn in by the president. This was a difficult and protracted process, testifying to considerable program differences between the two partners.

Those differences are unlikely to disappear. The key question for Polish politics now is how and when they could affect the operations of the government itself.

Yesterday's vote marked merely the end of the beginning for the current coalition. Now is the time for a different, but also difficult, sort of business: the business of governing.