Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 25, 2001

25 September 2001, Volume 3, Number 36
LEFT WING WINS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION. The Polish parliamentary elections on 23 September saw disaster overtake Solidarity, the mass movement that was so effective in the overthrow of communism. The Solidarity-led rightist coalition that has ruled Poland since 1997 was swept from office and apparently did not even win enough votes to be represented in the next parliament.

Gaining most in the election were the ex-communists, now called the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), under Leszek Miller in coalition with the Labor Union, a minor leftist party. Unofficial results and exit polls give them an estimated 41.5 percent of the vote. If that is accurate, it would mean they have narrowly failed to get an outright majority in the lower house of parliament -- making a coalition-building process difficult.

"It will be very difficult for them to create a stable coalition because the rest of the political parties that entered the Sejm [lower house of parliament] are either economically too liberal for them, or too populist for them, or anti-European [Union]," says political analyst Miroslawa Grabowska of Warsaw University's Institute of Sociology. "They -- meaning the SLD -- maintain that they are pro-European and moderately market-oriented."

Grabowska notes that the SLD has not yet spoken out about a possible coalition partner, apparently preferring to form a minority government if necessary. But she says that too will be very difficult. If a coalition is unavoidable, the likely partner would be the Peasant Party, the SLD's former partner in a stormy coalition in 1993-97.

Whether in coalition or governing alone, the SLD will have its hands full. Its program of social protection, budgetary spending cuts, and reforms necessary for EU membership appear to be contradictory. SLD leaders say an austerity package is urgently needed to prevent the budget deficit from reaching threatening levels and sparking a financial crisis. But this is difficult to balance with the party's policy of social protection against the pain of market reforms.

Analyst Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski of the Polish Institute of Political Studies says he does not know how the SLD plans to achieve its goals. "That will be the first serious political challenge for the unity of SLD and its popularity first of all, because [budget] cuts are inevitable and the electoral rhetoric they used can hardly allow for any serious cuts in public spending, so I just wonder how they will solve the problem," he says.

The outgoing Solidarity government suffered its dramatic loss because of public disillusionment over its internal squabbling, and over rising unemployment and poor economic growth. "Much depends on the policies that will be introduced by a new government," Wnuk-Lipinski says. "Hopes are big -- [and] partly they will be disappointed, that's inevitable, particularly during the construction of the state budget for next year, because cuts are inevitable in public spending. But still I believe the trust in the SLD is big enough to hold social peace, at least for some time."

Wnuk-Lipinski sees EU membership for Poland as a strategic goal of all the mainstream Polish parties, and he feels this will not change under the next government. But analyst Grabowska says the entrance into parliament of two small far-right parties, the Self-Defense party of rural populist Andrzej Lepper and the Catholic League of Polish Families, will have an impact on the issue. Both of those parties are hostile to EU membership for Poland. "I don't think they will be able to undermine the direction of Polish policy," Wnuk-Lipinski says, "but they will force the ruling SLD to open serious public debate about this process, and about the advantages and costs of joining the European Union."

Grabowska notes that Polish public support for EU membership has declined in recent years from about 70 percent to 55 percent. Under the Solidarity government, Poland's drive for accession lost steam, and over the past year and more there have been suggestions that the country might not make it into the first wave of entrants, which is expected in 2004.

In Brussels, analyst Daniel Gros of the Center for European Policy Studies says any trouble in constructing a new government in Warsaw will probably translate into a further loss of focus in the EU membership drive. "Experience has always shown that most countries tend to give priority to their domestic political problems, compared with the foreign policy issues they face with the EU. Hence, [in Poland's case], this can only mean delay," Gros says.

(RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke wrote this report.)

SOLIDARITY-AFFILIATED PARTIES FACE POLITICAL DEMISE. The last few months were extremely upsetting for Poland's Solidarity Electoral Action of the Right (AWSP). The AWSP is an election coalition of three parties: the Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement, the Christian National Union, and the Polish Party of Christian Democrats. Therefore, under Poland's election law, it needed to obtain at least 8 percent of the vote in the 23 September parliamentary elections in order to win parliamentary representation. However, most pre-election surveys predicted that support for the AWSP is below the 8 percent threshold and indeed, according to preliminary data, the AWSP's result on 23 September did not exceed 6 percent of the vote.

The AWSP is what remains of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), a bloc of some 30 various right-wing groups that won the 1997 parliamentary election and provided principal political backing to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's government in the following years. The AWS remained relatively stable until last year's presidential election, in which AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski lost heavily not only to the extremely popular post-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski but also to liberal independent Andrzej Olechowski, who subsequently launched the Civic Platform (PO) group. Following Krzaklewski's election defeat, the AWS began to crumble and split.

Some AWS defectors, led by Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski and Conservative Peasant Union leader Jan Maria Rokita, jumped on Olechowski's election bandwagon. Others joined the Law and Justice (PiS) group that was set up this year by former Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw, who were close associates of then-President Lech Walesa in the early 1990s. Both the PO and the PiS cleared the 5 percent voting threshold required for an election committee of a single party or a group of citizens to obtain parliamentary mandates.

What made the AWSP so unpopular among Polish voters is primarily the four-year record of Buzek's cabinet, under which unemployment soared to 16 percent. Most unemployed Poles have found themselves in glaring poverty, while many of those with jobs have been continuing an exhausting struggle to earn their livelihood. The AWS-led cabinet undertook four bold reforms -- in the health care and pension systems as well as in administration and education. However, all of them were bungled in execution and have provoked wide social discontent.

The health-care system is believed to be heavily bureaucratized, with too little money spent on looking after patients. The state-run insurer PZU still has no working computer system to make efficient transfers of money from individual accounts to social-security funds. Schoolchildren and teachers remain unsure of what exams should be taken at schools next summer, especially as the SLD-UP is threatening to revoke Buzek's education reform. And because of apparently insufficient sums transferred from the central budget to local self-governments, many in Poland resent even the most successful of the four reforms -- the administrative one, which vested local authorities with greater decision-making powers than they had before.

While Poland's socio-economic woes seem to be the most important reason for the mass disappointment with Buzek's government in particular and the Solidarity-affiliated political camp in general, they are in no way the only reason.

Buzek, though widely believed to be an honest person, has been seen as a weak leader. For more than three years, his cabinet was actually run by Krzaklewski. Krzaklewski, in his dual capacity as Solidarity trade union boss and AWS parliamentary caucus leader, was a behind-the-scenes operator, molding the government's policies and utilizing interfactional animosities to achieve his personal goals. Such a complicated and unclear power structure gave rise to many rifts within the Solidarity bloc and eventually forced the centrist Freedom Union (UW) to quit the ruling coalition in mid-2000.

There were also many allegations of corruption among top government officials. Buzek has been forced to fire four ministers over corruption charges in the past three months. Solidarity, which solemnly pledged four years ago to cleanse politics of corruption, has been deeply hit by corruption scandals itself.

Another major Solidarity-rooted force, the UW, was also unable to clear the 5 percent voting threshold and remain in the parliament. This may appear surprising, particularly since the UW is believed to advocate the interests of Poland's middle class, the group for which the country's post-communist transformations were doubtless a success story. This socio-economic class, according to polls, is well capable of producing two-digit election support for its political representatives.

But the UW apparently made a grave mistake at its congress in December 2000, when it opposed a leadership change. Instead of promoting younger and more dynamic activists to top party posts, the UW once again put its trust in such veterans of the Solidarity underground opposition as Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Bronislaw Geremek. The congress was immediately followed by a massive defection -- led by Donald Tusk -- of young UW activists to Olechowski's PO. It seems that the PO, with its program incorporating many of the UW's liberal ideas, has succeeded in winning over the middle-class electorate.

Now, because the AWSP and the UW failed to win parliamentary seats, their political survival is in serious doubt, to say the least. Such a development spells not only the end of the careers of many Solidarity-rooted politicians, but also the end of an epoch. This epoch began with an overwhelming vote of support, installing the Solidarity camp in power in 1989, and ended with a no less overwhelming vote casting it into political oblivion.

INDEPENDENT OBSERVER SAYS PRESIDENTIAL VOTE WAS RIGGED. Uladzimir Gudzeyeu, chairman of the Belarusian Club of Voters, told journalists on 21 September that up to 25 of votes cast for Uladzimir Hancharyk in the 9 September presidential election went to incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported. The Belarusian Club of Voters was one of Belarus's NGOs included in the Belarusian Initiative-Independent Observation umbrella group that fielded some 10,000 domestic election monitors to watch over the presidential election. According to Gudzeyeu, this conclusion naturally suggests itself as a result of a preliminary analysis of data collected by domestic monitors.

The election authorities made the election audit by domestic observers extremely difficult by refusing them officially confirmed voting results from polling stations. At the same time, the Central Election Commission published only the accumulated nationwide totals, without providing at each of the district and oblast levels detailed results by polling station to justify the totals announced.

Gudzeyeu said that the Independent Observation headquarters received observers' data about voting results at 70 percent of all precincts. He noted numerous instances of voting under compulsion during the five-day early voting period (from 4-8 September). Observers reported 314 such instances.

Proceeding from data from 35 percent of polling stations, the Independent Observation headquarters maintains that 2,661,488 people, or 23 percent of all registered voters, cast their ballots during the early voting period. The official data released by the Central Election Commission put this figure at 14 percent.

Gudzeyeu noted that this percentage was typical of early voting in towns, while the proportion of those who voted ahead of 9 September was much larger in rural areas. For instance, 54 percent of voters took part in early voting in the Dubrovna Raion, Vitsebsk Oblast; 51 percent in the Kletsk Raion, Homel Oblast. "I think the proportion of those who voted before the polling day may have reached 30 percent nationally," Gudzeyeu said.

He also noted that the proportions of officially announced vote tallies for Lukashenka and his main rival Hancharyk during the early voting period were radically different from the results on polling day. For instance, out of the 422 people who took part in early voting at Precinct No. 1 in Minsk's Pervomaiskii district, 98.1 percent allegedly voted for Lukashenka and only 1.4 percent for Hancharyk, whereas out of the 342 people who voted on 9 September, 50.6 percent voted for the incumbent and 26.9 percent for the opposition candidate. "Taking observation data into consideration, one can presume that a part of the ballots put into boxes during early voting were then replaced," Gudzeyeu said.

He also noted a considerable difference between the electoral authorities' and observers' data about those who voted on 9 September. For instance, at 28 percent of precincts in Homel Oblast, the difference was 18,000.

IS YUSHCHENKO'S OUR UKRAINE KUCHMA'S 'POLITICAL PROJECT'? Kyiv-based political analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo, editor in chief of the "Politychna dumka" (Political Thought) magazine, said last week that the Our Ukraine election bloc (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 24 July 2001) of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko is a "political project" of President Leonid Kuchma's administration, Interfax reported.

"From the very beginning, [Yushchenko] has been acting according to his formulations -- which, possibly, were voiced awkwardly but quite openly -- to the effect that any actions on his part should be coordinated with the president, as between a son and a father. This means that [Yushchenko] accepts the president's world outlook and the steps he takes in any situation.... There is no evidence that Viktor Yushchenko is an independent, self-sufficient political player," Polokhalo noted.

Polokhalo added that the presidential administration has taken every measure to prevent Our Ukraine from including forces that are in opposition to Kuchma. According to Polokhalo, neither the anti-Kuchma National Salvation forum nor its individual representatives have any chance of joining Our Ukraine.

"The political regime is interested in creating such blocs and such political players that are not interested in real competition and have no ideological differences that would bring this competition about," the 20 September "Den" newspaper quoted Polokhalo as saying. According to Polokhalo, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is one vivid illustration of this thesis. Another illustration, Polokhalo added, is the planned bloc that journalists have dubbed "Tundra" -- it reportedly will consist of the Labor Party, the Party of Regions, the Popular Democratic Party, and the Agrarian Party, whose combined acronym in the vernacular sounds close to "tundra."

Yushchenko, in his turn, denies that his bloc is steered by the presidential administration. But he does not conceal that he consults his political steps with Kuchma and would prefer not to call Our Ukraine an opposition force.

In an interview with the 11 September "Stolichnye novosti" Yushchenko glibly said: "My attitude toward Leonid Danylovych [Kuchma] has been and remains honest. Neither I nor Our Ukraine are under the president's control.... I hope the that Leonid Danylovych's attitude to the bloc will be the same as our bloc's attitude toward him. Today, I am confident that the president needs constructive criticism from a bloc with a patriotic stand much more than radicalism. This criticism from our bloc is not personal criticism of the president. I will respect the president because he is the symbol of my state. Without respecting the president I will not get marks as an intelligent and educated man. This is reality and it speaks for itself. People from my bloc often say that I consult the president too much. But I would like to consult him even more. Not because the bloc's policy is under his control, but because the president plays a special role in Ukraine. It is not going easily for him now or for the country. Any bloc gets marks rather than loses them from communications with the authorities."

The parliamentary caucuses of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine, the Reforms and Order Party, and Reforms-Congress on 19 September announced the creation of the Our Ukraine group in the Ukrainian parliament to represent the Our Ukraine election coalition headed by Yushchenko. But it is unclear what other political parties will be in Our Ukraine. Ukrainian media reported last week that Yushchenko would like the Party of Regions led by State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov to join Our Ukraine, in an effort to get leverage in Ukraine's eastern oblasts. But Azarov reportedly answered that Our Ukraine would be better served by joining the Party of Regions in the Tundra bloc.

"We had a chance to win, we wanted to win, and we won." -- Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller, commenting on the exit polls released immediately after the closure of polling stations on 23 September and suggesting that the SLD-UP bloc won an outright majority of seats in the Sejm. Quoted by PAP.

"This is not a Sejm I could consider good for Poland, but it was not me who elected it." -- Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski, a leader of the centrist Civic Platform that finished second, winning some 12 percent of the vote. Quoted by PAP.

"We were right then [in 1992], we wanted to warn [parliamentary deputies], we wanted to remind them of how the Polish countryside smells, and that the people demand a decent life.... They did not understand that, so we were acting. We are consistent and efficient." -- Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, responding to a question about the differences between the 1992 parliament (when his Self-Defense dumped manure in front of the parliamentary building in protest) and the current one, in which Self-Defense won some 50 seats. Quoted by PAP.

"The defeat of the AWSP and the UW -- which jointly could not achieve the result of Self-Defense -- is evidence of the total distrust in the current government.... The results of Self-Defense, Law and Justice, and the League of Polish Families is a typical consequence of protest and frustration." -- President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 23 September. Quoted by PAP.