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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 2, 2001

2 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 37
LEFT ALLIANCE TAKES OVER. Poland's State Election Commission announced on 26 September that the leftist coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance with the Labor Union (SLD-UP) won 41.04 percent of the vote, or 216 of 460 parliamentary seats, in the 23 September general elections. The centrist Civic Platform (PO), which finished second, received 12.68 percent of the vote, which translated into 63 parliamentary mandates. The SLD-UP also trounced rivals in the election to the 100-strong Senate, winning 75 seats.

The parliamentary election results of other parties were as follows: the radical farmers' union Self-Defense won 53 seats; the Law and Justice (PiS) 44 seats; the Peasant Party (PSL) 42 seats; and the extreme right, ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families (LPR) 38 seats. The Solidarity Electoral Action of the Right (AWSP) and the Freedom Union (UW) -- both of which are deeply rooted in the Solidarity movement of the 1980s -- were ousted from the parliament.

The SLD-UP bloc fell 15 seats short of an outright majority, and this shortfall seems to be fraught with grave consequences for an expected SLD-dominated government in particular and Poland's further course in general. Political analysts and commentators in Poland agree that the SLD-UP bloc is now facing only two realistic options -- either to run a minority government or to forge a ruling coalition with the Peasant Party. The latter option would repeat the situation from 1993-1997, when the SLD ruled in an uneasy alliance with the PSL.

SLD leader Leszek Miller has repeatedly voiced his reluctance to enter any postelection coalitions to form a cabinet, arguing that none of the forces competing in the election had a program compatible with that of the SLD. Immediately after the closure of polling stations on 23 September, when exit polls predicted that the SLD-UP would either have a slim majority or lack only a few seats for a majority, President Aleksander Kwasniewski suggested that the SLD-UP could run a minority government rather than enter a coalition resting on "false foundations." Now, when the SLD-UP is 15 mandates shy of a majority, the situation appears to be much more difficult.

A potential coalition with the PSL would cause many problems for Miller in EU membership talks, especially regarding Poland's huge and inefficient agricultural sector. Warsaw must take tough and unpopular measures in order to upgrade its agricultural policies to EU standards, and this is exactly what the Euro-skeptic PSL firmly opposes. The PSL is well aware than any concessions toward liberalizing agricultural policies will only reduce the party's support among its countryside electorate and boost backing for the populist Self-Defense, which already outpaced the PSL in the number of parliamentary mandates. Thus, Miller -- who, according to Polish commentators, is keenly interested in leading Poland into the EU during his premiership -- has good reason to avoid a ruling bloc with the PSL.

The other option -- an SLD-UP minority government with the tacit support of the pro-European, liberal Civic Platform -- has obvious drawbacks as well. The PO -- led by a triumvirate of Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Plazynski, and Donald Tusk -- has ruled out a coalition with the left but hinted that it might endorse the SLD-UP on such critical issues as dealing with the budget crisis or securing Poland's EU membership. But apart from these key matters, there will be a host of other issues, and the SLD-UP would likely be forced to muster political support in the parliament every time it attempted to pass a bill. Moreover, a tacit alliance of the SLD-UP with the PO would almost certainly lump together the four remaining parliamentary groups and make a vociferous, anti-EU opposition out of them.

The farmers' militant Self-Defense cannot be regarded as a serious government partner. Apart from Self-Defense firebrand leader Andrzej Lepper, who became notorious for organizing road blockades and violent protests against Poland's pro-European policies, none of Self-Defense's 53 newly made lawmakers is known to the Polish public.

Although to a somewhat lesser extent, the same can be said of the 38 lawmakers from the League of Polish Families, a group that emerged this year from nowhere and was pushed into the parliament by Radio Maryja -- run by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a man dubbed "the most influential religious fundamentalist in Europe" by the Polish media. Like Self-Defense, the LPR fiercely opposes Poland's EU membership. The LPR's program is hardly known to the broader public, perhaps apart from the proposal that Poland should join NAFTA rather than the EU's common market.

PiS -- another political group formed this year -- is what can be viewed as a vestige of the former Solidarity camp in the parliament. The PiS was built by former Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw around their campaign for a crackdown on crime and the return of the death penalty. The PiS includes a number of former activists of the Solidarity Electoral Action. Chances are that the PiS, in contrast to the populist Self-Defense and LPR, may constitute a somewhat less noisy parliamentary opposition to the SLD-UP.

Even if the preconditions for a future cabinet are not auspicious, most commentators tend to believe that Poland's monolithic, self-disciplined left will be able to forge a stable government.

The landslide victory of the post-communist SLD-UP has not provoked any panic in Europe. Miller's SLD long ago ceased to be perceived as a party seeking revenge on its right-wing rivals or a sort of communist comeback. The revenge motivation may partly apply to SLD regional-level activists, who still include many former communist apparatchiks, but the SLD's top leadership has firmly set its party on a course toward modern social democracy.

The SLD has chosen a correct course, and this is corroborated not only by voters' massive support but also by an inflow of young activists to the party. For people just over 20 years of age, the communist era in Poland is now only a dim memory. They treat the SLD primarily as a good springboard for their public careers, not as an heir to communist authoritarianism. The SLD leadership was wise enough to provide such career opportunities. Many right-wing parties, including the AWSP and the UW, did not care enough to build such a springboard. And this is one of the reasons they lost.

WORLD BANK ISSUES FIRST LOAN SINCE 1994. The World Bank on 27 September signed an agreement with Belarus to provide a $22.6 million loan over 16.5 years, Belapan reported, quoting the World Bank's office in Minsk. The money is intended to be spent on the reconstruction of heating systems, heat insulation, and lighting at some 500 Belarusian schools, hospitals, and kindergartens.

This is the first loan the World Bank has granted to Belarus since 1994, when then-newly elected President Alyaksandr Lukashenka slowed economic reform in the country. In 1997, the World Bank made the resumption of lending conditional on the liberalization of the Belarusian ruble's exchange rate. Minsk met this condition in the autumn of 2000.

ANTI-LUKASHENKA CAMPAIGNER GOES TO JAIL. Palina Panasyuk from Brest, a city in southwestern Belarus, will spend five days in jail for dissemination of the opposition newspaper "Nasha svaboda" and election leaflets during the presidential election campaign near the deployment site of a police battalion in the city, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 September. A judge found her guilty of "expressing political interests that run counter to the reelection of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the president of the Republic of Belarus."

TYMOSHENKO PINS YUSHCHENKO DOWN. Former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has called upon former Premier Viktor Yushchenko to form an election bloc consisting of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, Tymoshenko's National Salvation Forum, and Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party. In an open letter published by Ukrainian media last week, Tymoshenko wrote:

"Today we are proposing to unite Our Ukraine, the National Salvation Forum, and the bloc led by Oleksandr Moroz into a single electoral democratic bloc with a single election list. It is exactly this bloc, according to my deep conviction, that will claim a victory in [next year's] parliamentary elections and install in power honest politicians who are able to introduce order in the state....

"If you fail to respond to this proposal, separately we will, of course, make it to the parliament, but it will be a parliament controlled by oligarchic, antidemocratic, and antireformist forces that will continue with the shameful practice of suppressing people, stealing national wealth, and ruining the independent state....

"[Your] idea of building a single coalition of all 'constructive forces' is worth attention. However, this outwardly noble goal should not serve as a cover for making fools of people. The Party of Regions, Labor Ukraine, or other 'court-clique' structures, which are today pushing forward to become your allies, will never be building democracy or supporting national revival because they are being guided by 'principles and rules' that have noting to do with either democracy or Ukraine's revival."

Some Ukrainian commentators have called Tymoshenko's open letter a good propagandistic move that is intended to demystify Yushchenko and show the public that Yushchenko primarily seeks power and not necessarily democratic reforms championed by a 'national-patriotic' parliamentary coalition.

"Today, the ex-premier [Yushchenko] needs not Tymoshenko with national patriots (he already has a lot of them) but parties with backing in individual regions: Solidarnist -- this [is leverage in] the Vinnytsya region; the Liberal Party -- this [means] the Sumy region; Mejlis -- this [means] Crimea; the Agrarian Party -- this [means] the Volyn region; Ukraine's Regions -- this [means] Donbas," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website commented.

While publicizing her open letter, Tymoshenko most likely did not believe in the possibility of any election coalition with Yushchenko. It appears that she made her offer only to clear the political field for herself in the upcoming election campaign. Yushchenko's anticipated "no" to her proposal will leave her an indisputable leader on the right-of-center side of the anti-Kuchma opposition forces.

And indeed, Yushchenko's first reaction to Tymoshenko's letter was negative: "We are not going to consider somebody else's advice or recommendations, to speak correctly. We have our own vision. Our bloc is not aiming to fight the authorities or anybody else," ICTV television quoted Yushchenko as saying.

"Every single day of this government's rule means loss for Poland. We think that they simply want to steal as much as possible." -- Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, commenting on his appeal to President Aleksander Kwasniewski to immediately dismiss Premier Jerzy Buzek's cabinet; quoted by PAP on 27 September.

"I was before court so many times that one more case would not make any difference; it is all for Poland's good." -- Andrzej Lepper, answering the question whether he is not afraid of being taken to court for calling Premier Buzek and his ministers "ordinary criminals"; quoted by PAP on 27 September.

"I am against abortion, which was allowed in socialist Poland. Back then many children were born. Now we have a fall in the birth rate because of the gynecologist who makes bloodless abortions using the economy. And that man is [National Bank Governor Leszek] Balcerowicz." -- Andrzej Lepper; quoted by Reuters on 27 September.