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Poland: Post-Communists Elect New Leader

By Bogdan Turek and Jan de Weydenthal

Warsaw, 8 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Poland's post-communist Social Democratic party yesterday elected a new leader and vowed to win local elections next year to create a base for success in the future parliamentary contest. The party dominated the government until last September, when they lost parliamentary elections to the center-right coalition led by Solidarity labor union.

Leszek Miller, former minister of the Interior, was elected as the top party leader. He was supported by 311 out of 413 delegates to the party's national congress. He defeated former Minister of Economy Wieslaw Kaczmarek, who received 87 votes.

Miller has long been regarded as the most effective and popular politician within the party. Considered as a pragmatic government official and supporter of market economy, Miller is currently chairman of the party's parliamentary group.

Miller replaced Jozef Oleksy, one-time Prime minister who has been accused of cooperating with Soviet and Russian intelligence agents. The case against him was dropped, but his innocence has never been fully proved and he was forced to resign as head of the government in January 1996.

Miller has promised to change and re-organize the party so it could regain public support. "Everything has to be changed in the party," Miller said after his victory.

Miller also vowed to help President Aleksander Kwasniewski to gain re-election for a second term in office. Kwasniewski was among the founders of the Social Democratic party and chaired the organization until his election as president. Kwasniewski openly expressed support for Miller before the congress.

Critics have said, however, that Miller's election brings little hope that the Social Democrats will lose their post-communist image. They say that Miller was politically conservative and his leadership will only perpetuate old-time policies. Miller was a ranking communist politician before the onset of democracy in Poland that followed the collapse of the communist government in 1989.

"The party failed to bring in new people," said Wojciech Borowik from the leftist Labor Party (UP) 'The election of Miller is a stab in the back of the Polish leftist parties." Bronislaw Komorowski, an official in the Solidarity Election Action (AWS) coalition of right-wing parties which won the September elections, said the defeat of Wieslaw Kaczmarek, a liberal economist was indicative of the conservative sentiments in the Social Democratic party. "It is not my defeat but a defeat of the reform of the Social Democracy," Kaczmarek was reported to have said following the announcement of the voting results. "There was only a rotation of jobs at the congress."

Pawel Piskorski, an activist in the centrist Freedom Union which forms government coalition with AWS said the congress was a confirmation that "no changes" took place in the Social Democratic party. "The congress strengthened the position of the people from the former Polish (Communist) United Workers Party (PZPR)," he said. "It means Social Democrats limited themselves to the old activists."

There is only one new face among the five deputy leaders of the party. This is Jacek Piechota, a 40-year-old activist, while other deputies -- Izabella Sierakowska, former communist youth activist Jacek Szmajdzinski, economic expert Marek Borowski and historian Tadeusz Iwinski are veterans of communist politics.

President Kwasniewski described Miller's election as "the best choice" for the Social Democrats. But the right-wing Warsaw newspaper "Zycie" said in an editorial today that Miller might have been only marginally better than Oleksy. "Miller was not charged with espionage and very few people remember that he took the Russian money," Zycie said. Miller allegedly handled an illegal loan from the former Soviet communist party in 1990 to subsidize the fading operation of the Polish communists. He was subsequently cleared of the charge of receiving and handling foreign funds without permission from fiscal authorities.