Walesa Targets Gridlock Before Polish Elections
Critics charge his new reform bloc is meant to boost president's power
WITH parliamentary elections set for Sept. 19, Polish President Lech Walesa has formed his own political movement, claiming it will keep Poland on the path of economic reform.Skip to next paragraph
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But critics portray his Non-Party Bloc for the Support of Reforms (BBWR) as a vehicle for securing a stronger role for the president.
At a press conference in mid-July, Mr. Walesa called BBWR "the rescue from all Poland's evils," citing the "leftist configuration" that would pervade the Sejm (parliament) if his movement did not help draw votes to the reformist camp.
In a recent address to the nation, Walesa warned of a fragmented Sejm unable to continue the transformation of society begun when communism fell in 1989.
He extolled his new creation - a broad alliance of businessmen, workers, peasants, and local authorities - and its claim that every hard-working Pole can make it big. The movement champions its "program of 300 million," in which the government would offer adult Poles a chance at 300 million zlotys ($167) worth of national property to invest in, make flourish, and pay back in 20 years at low interest.
Walesa denies that he is campaigning for his own personal party, a sentiment backed up by close aide Andrzej Kozakiewicz, who co-founded BBWR on June 17.
"He's not campaigning. He's just promoting his child," Mr. Kozakiewicz said in a late July interview from his office at the presidential palace. "Right now we already have grown up a little bit, and now probably we will get some slaps if the president will not be happy with our activity."
Kozakiewicz will take leave of the president's office this week to run BBWR's election campaign, which goes into full swing for two weeks later.
With Walesa's name and its populist message, observers say, BBWR may bring to the polls voters fed up with the 29 bickering parties that sat in the Sejm dissolved by Walesa May 31 after the government of Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka lost a no-confidence vote. The vote was called by the parliamentary representation of the Solidarity trade union, complaining that reforms were proceeding too quickly, at the expense of the workers. A day later, Walesa called on the parties of the governing coalition to form
a "pro-reform bloc," a plan that was met with silence.
"Our constituency couldn't agree with those conditions," says Andrzej Potocki, spokesman for Suchocka's Democratic Union (UD), Poland's largest pro-reform party. "They won't vote for example for me when people from the Christian National Union are on the same list," he adds, referring to a party that opposes UD on issues such as abortion.
Before BBWR's entry into the race, most opinion polls showed UD as the only consistently pro-reform party gaining more than 10 percent of the vote.
Now BBWR has joined the Democratic Union in the polls - taking some of UD's popularity with them - and the two are expected to head any reform-minded coalition. But critics accuse Walesa of trying to fill parliament with cronies who share his vision of a strong presidency in a country yet to pass a post-communist constitution.
Kozakiewicz admits this, pointing to the first plank in the movement's platform which includes political as well as economic reform.
"It is absolutely necessary for us to give [Walesa] some executive power because at this very moment, for example, in the economy, which is the most important issue for the people, the president doesn't have any, any executive power," Kozakiewicz says. "He can beg, ask, send letters, apply - that's all."
Some critics maintain that the existing parties represent pro-market sentiment well enough, citing the deputies from the former Communist Party who supported a privatization bill last spring.
Others such as Stanislaw Filipowicz of Warsaw University term BBWR "one step back" for Polish democracy, delaying the day when political parties represent distinct socioeconomic interests. "We are divided; that's normal," he says.
Pessimists say if Walesa does not get his way on presidential government, he will dissolve parliament again and call for yet another round of elections. Bogdan Borusewicz, a Solidarity hero along with Walesa back in the 1980s, warned after a meeting with his former boss that the president would dissolve parliament no later than March after a squabble over the 1994 budget, which the government is already preparing. After the meeting, Mr. Borusewicz switched his allegiance from BBWR to UD.
A fear of another kind was voiced by Walesa himself: a left-wing coalition led by the former communists and the Polish Peasant Party, a former communist satellite. Both are enjoying public support similar to BBWR and UD.
Neither Kozakiewicz of BBWR nor UD's Mr. Potocki rule out forming a coalition government with either of these parties.
Almost anything will be possible, they say, in the next parliament in which 10 or fewer groupings are expected to sit because of a new election law requiring each party to win at least 5 percent of the vote.