Wojciech Jaruzelski -- the Polish general who asked for 90 days of domestic peace when he took over as head of government and faced instead nearly four years of bitter strife -- stepped down as prime minister Wednesday. At the same time he was nominated as Chairman of the Council of State, which makes him titular head of state.
The moves were announced at the opening session of the new parliment, selected last month in the first national elections since the Solidarity trade union was banned in December 1981.
The changes affect only the government and do not change the effective leadership of the country. The general remains leader of the Polish Communist Party. And, as such, his personal and political authority continues unchallenged.
His resignation from the premiership had long been anticipated. It stands as a political mark of the easing of the country's long-disturbed situation.
The general's successor-designate as prime minister, Zbigniew Messner, was one of the younger men brought into the government two years ago. He was formally nominated by Jaruzelski yesterday. Mr. Messner is the son of a worker family that lived in a section of prewar Poland that is now part of the Soviet Ukraine.
Mr. Messner has wide economic experience and an academic background; he was a professor at the Silesian Academy of Economics and its rector for seven years. He emerged onto the national political scene at the 1981 Communist Party Congress, when he was elected to the Central Committee and to the party's executive body, the Politburo.
He was one of eight deputy premiers named in Jaruzelski's government shuffle in November 1983 and was given one of its most onerous portfolios, the economic reform. The general so extolled Messner's abilities that he quickly came to be seen as a likely future successor to Jaruzelski as prime minister.
In the meantime, Jaruzelski has assumed the title of President, or chairman of the Council of State, replacing the veteran Henryk Jablonski. The post is tantamount to that of head of state and Jaruzelski combines it with the most important post of all in Poland, the leadership of the nation's Communist Party.
Jaruzelski has suggested that the turnout for last month's election, higher than anticipated given a boycott campaign by Solidarity, supported his claim that Poland has been substantially stabilized. The time, therefore, was ripe for a new parliament to elect a new government and for Jaruzelski to relinquish the job of first minister. He will be able to concentrate his energies fully on party affairs, which will be of great significance as the next Communist Party Congress in June 1986 approaches.
This congress will meet in vastly different conditions and circumstances than those of the so-called ``Solidarity congress'' five years before. In the interim, Solidarity has been eliminated from the political scene as a mass organization.
But in many ways, this next congress will be as crucial for Poland's future as the earlier one.
As a result of martial law, Jaruzelski lost much of his original popularity. But he is still widely regarded by a large majority of his party as the only acceptable leader of Poland. And he is accepted with a fair degree of tolerance by a wide section of the disenchanted public at large, which sees him as a moderate committed to political reform and to a broad social dialogue within the nation as a whole.
Although behind-the-scenes struggles over the style of leadership within the party and the way in which Poland is to be governed have never really abated, Poland's small but tenacious hard-line faction has been contained.
Next year's congress will possibly offer the occasion to decide if a broadly reformist line can in fact be made a firm political element in Polish life.