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Solidarity Regains Lost Ground in Polish Vote

Elections: Right-wing coalition led by trade union scores upset. But it must still form a government.

September 22, 1997|DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WARSAW — A rejuvenated Solidarity movement appeared to have pulled off a stunning political upset Sunday, finishing well ahead of the ruling former Communists and their allies in parliamentary elections, according to Polish television projections.

Swept from power in a humiliating defeat four years ago, Solidarity forces were faring better than most pollsters had predicted. Election night projections showed Solidarity Election Action--a coalition of three dozen right-wing groups led by the Solidarity trade union--winning nearly 33% of the vote, which would translate under a complex election formula into 189 seats in the 460-member lower house of Parliament. Turnout was 59%.

"We will start correcting all of those mistakes that have been committed," Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski told a victory rally. "A lot of work awaits us."

Another Solidarity-based party, the centrist Freedom Union, was posting a strong third-place finish, with exit polls showing that it had gained about 16% of the vote, which would mean 70 seats.

Led by Leszek Balcerowicz, the brains behind Poland's shock-therapy economic reforms of the early 1990s, the Freedom Union has its roots in the intellectual wing of the Solidarity movement and is the favorite of foreign investors and businesspeople.

"We have a preliminary sign that society wants the post-Solidarity camp to finish the great changes in Poland," Balcerowicz told supporters. "I can say that we will finish this reconstruction because Poland needs it."

Projections showed the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, a coalition of former Communists turned social democrats, collecting about 27% of the vote. Although that was a stronger showing than in 1993, the party looked set to lose 13 seats in Parliament because of the new Solidarity presence.

"We will be ready to serve Poland . . . in any role," said onetime Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance, who said he was still holding out hope of a new coalition government.

The biggest loser appeared to be the Polish Peasant Party, a rural partner in the current governing coalition that also has its roots in the Communist past and has been widely blamed for blocking needed reforms. The party was on track to lose about 100 of its 132 seats, according to the exit polls.

The Solidarity turnaround was sparked in large part by the first coming together of the fractured political right in Poland.

In the 1993 parliamentary elections, about one in three votes was cast for right-of-center parties that failed to gain a single seat. Under Poland's election law, parties that collect less than 5% of the popular vote are excluded from Parliament.

But with nearly 40 diverse groups among its ranks, Solidarity Election Action is expected to have a tough time keeping itself intact, let alone reaching a coalition agreement with its most likely governing partner, the Freedom Union.

Many of the most vehemently anti-Communist elements of Solidarity Election Action have refused to work with the Freedom Union because it has cooperated in Parliament with the former Communists. Earlier this year, Krzaklewski characterized the party as a traitor for helping the former Communists write a new constitution that Solidarity regarded as too secular and as insufficiently patriotic.

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In an interview on Polish television Sunday night, Krzaklewski did not rule out a pact with the Freedom Union, but he struck an uncompromising tone.

"The core of the program has to be the election program of [Solidarity Election Action]," he said. "This is the program that achieved great success in this election."

Freedom Union member Bronislaw Geremek, a longtime Solidarity activist, warned against an "arrogance of winning" that could cost the Solidarity-bred parties their historic comeback by thrusting the Freedom Union into an agreement with the former Communists.

The Democratic Left Alliance has made it clear that it would welcome a partnership with the Freedom Union, which shares many of its economic priorities, and has even hinted that it would consent to the smaller party holding the post of prime minister.

To further complicate matters, former president and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa announced Sunday night that he intends to create his own party in the coming weeks. Walesa said it will help Solidarity Election Action realize its program, but some analysts fear that it will split the Solidarity camp.

The actual dynamics of building the next ruling coalition will be determined by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who must ask one of the parliamentary winners to form a government. Under the constitution, Kwasniewski, a former Communist, is not required to tap the first-place finisher.

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