Poland's one small step toward democracy is too small for some
A Polish Parliament elected in the pre-Solidarity period has just extended its own term, putting off already overdue elections until at least the end of the year.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Since past elections of Parliament have been held in March, that could mean postponement for a full year.
There were no votes against the measure. But there was criticism from Roman Catholic and independent allies in the ruling Communist Party's coalition, and even from deputies in the party.
Their objections reflected a widespread disappointment among moderates, who believe that only genuine democratization of the electoral process can bring public support to the authorities' economic recovery program.
The Parliament did vote, however, for a measure that calls for two candidates to run for each council seat in local government elections this spring. (This new procedure was due two years ago but was called off because of martial law.)
This step, voted on Feb. 13 along with the extension of Parliament's term, is unusual but it does not allow for open, independent nomination. Rather it gives a controlling role to the the so-called Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth (PRON).
PRON was created by the ruling party following the lifting of martial law, and is dominated by the party. In effect, its powers in public affairs (including elections) are little different from those wielded by the old Front of National Unity of the regime discredited in 1980.
Still more serious is the disenchantment caused by the Parliament's decision to extend its life as a national body. Even some of its pro-communist supporters admit Parliament is jaded and unrepresentative of the streams in public feeling born in the Solidarity era.
It was elected in March 1980 under the aegis of former party chief, Edward Gierek, and his prime minister, Piotr Jaroszewicz. Both were subsequently stripped even of party membership, and this month's parliamentary session approved an investigating committee's proposal to bring Jaroszewicz before the Tribunal of State set up to adjudge constitutional responsibility for the economic mismanagement of the Gierek period.
(Gierek himself, as party chief, held no state position and so was earlier exonerated from direct culpability.)
The party's so-called ''renewal'' congress of July 1981 made a clean sweep of most of the top leaders ruling before the rise of Solidarity in August 1980. Multiple changes in Parliament followed.
But Parliament, although elected on the old artificial basis - a single list of candidates selected by the party - remained virtually untouched.
''Since August 1980, the Gierek-Jaroszewicz regime has lived on in this Parliament,'' said an independent member recently. ''That has to be altered if public opinion is to be won.''
The likelihood of that happening is questionable, however, even though parliamentary elections are a year away and though, presumably, there still would be time for a more liberal rendering of the new election rules.
But the possibility is not altogether excluded. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski recently brushed off the latest conservative challenge to his ''moderate'' leadership. He also said that democratization of the election system can only go as far as the ''real situation'' in Poland allows.
Such statements serve as a reminder of what still is obvious: that the general continues to ''contain'' his hard-line critics, but that they have still to be reckoned with, especially if they were to gain encouragement from a more conservative trend in the Kremlin.
The general may see the coming local elections as a trial run which, he hopes , might give his regime greater credibility with the public. But they are to be conducted under rules having many of the weaknesses of the old system which ensured his predecessors a 90-plus percent of the party-regulated single list.
In the past, some people contrived a token negative vote against the least popular leaders by marking all but their names on the list, and so reducing those leaders' percentages. The same possibility can apply now. But advocates of greater democracy had hoped that, beside plurality of candidates, ballot papers would list nominees in strict alphabetical order regardless of party affliation (there are several parties beside the communist party).
Under the present system, candidates favored by the regime are listed first. Any unmarked ballots go automatically to the candidate at the top of the list.
Moreover, these advocates hoped that candidates might be chosen independently by ad hoc groups of citizens not necessarily enrolled in a party. Roman Catholics, for example, see this as essential to making a political reality of the understanding which General Jaruzelski and the Pope reportedly reached last year. The agreement, it is believed, was designed to replace or at least reduce present discrimination against the clergy and give them more opportunity to enter public affairs.
The greatest weakness of the procedures now adopted is that candidates for local councils may only be nominated by committees operating under PRON. At present, it looks like the same will apply to national elections.
One veteran parliamentary independent told the Monitor that his constituents recently requested him to stand again when the time comes. He told them he would , subject to being directly nominated by them, not by PRON. As things stand, however, PRON will have the say.
''After all it has been through, society expects something more,'' he said. ''If elections are to be run solely by PRON, people just won't vote. There could be a 50 percent abstention which would be a more serious blow to this government's credibility than anything else.''