DESPITE opposition from President Lech Walesa, political observers in Poland are increasingly raising the possibility of early elections if prime minister designate Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the Polish Peasants Union, cannot cobble together a coalition government within a week or so.
"Who knows," said a diplomatic source, "when US President Bush comes to Poland in early July, he may well find the Sejm [parliament] that he addresses is about to dissolve."
President Walesa last week named Mr. Pawlak to try to form a government after the fragile, center-right coalition led by Jan Olszewski collapsed amid inter-party rivalry, conflict between Mr. Olszewski and Walesa, and controversy over plans to reveal the names of current officials identified as informers or collaborators with the Communist-era secret police.
Pawlak, strongly backed by Walesa, has expressed confidence in his ability to put together a new government despite differences among the parties that support him. An editorial cartoon yesterday in Poland's leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, showed a sweating, somewhat out of shape Pawlak straining to lift enormous weights on a complicated exercise machine.
Whatever coalition Pawlak does manage to construct also will be fragile, as in order to achieve a parliamentary majority, it will need to combine several small parties out of the 29 parties represented in the Sejm.
"There are three main possibilities," political writer Konstanty Gebert said in an interview. "Either Pawlak achieves a coalition ... which, with the backing also of the former Communists will get a majority, or, he doesn't achieve a majority coalition but goes ahead with a minority Cabinet that will be something of a stopgap through the summer. If he can't do either, Walesa may produce another candidate or take over himself.
"The first two possibilities point to early elections, but early elections would necessitate a new electoral law because elections now would simply produce the same extreme fragmentation that we have already," he said.
Poland's electoral law is totally proportional, meaning that numerous tiny parties may send deputies to parliament even if they get only a tiny fraction of the vote. Walesa has repeatedly called early elections one of the worst moves under present circumstances.
Mr. Gebert and other observers see the current political crisis as a step which could eventually lead to a new, more cohesive, political system in which the widely fragmented political spectrum will regroup into several broader main political currents. Two political camps
"Broadly speaking, two main political camps are emerging," he said. "One is around the parties that made up Olszewski's government - the Center Alliance, the Christian National Union, two small peasant parties, and probably Solidarity.
"The other group is around the parties Pawlak is trying to bring together - his Peasants Union, the Democratic Union, the Liberal Democratic Congress, the Polish Economic Program, and the Confederation for an Independent Poland.
"Both groups of parties are center-right, but the group around Olszewski is more right than center, and the group around Pawlak is more center than right," he said.
Walesa's choice of Pawlak as prime minister was significant, in that both he and his party came from outside the spectrum of post-communist political forces spawned by the Solidarity movement.
Today's Peasants Union is the direct descendant of the officially sanctioned Peasants Union that functioned alongside the Communists.
"The Peasants Union had some credibility, as it broke its alliance with the Communists in 1989," said one member of the Sejm. Communist-affiliated groups accepted
"The Peasants Union was somehow accepted, but to accept the leader of the Peasants Union as prime minister marks a new process. It means that despite the anticommunist rhetoric, there is decreasing isolation of the groups connected with the Communist regime. In part it's a recognition that the old times are gone, that there is a new younger generation."
Said Gebert: "The name of the game is to be noncommunist and not tainted with power. Noncommunist does not mean anticommunist."
One Polish political observer noted that Walesa's choice of an "outsider" as prime minister also reflected pre-communist history.
"In Poland, for centuries we had a historical tradition," he said. "When we had to elect a king, and all the clans were jealous so that no one could be elected from among them, they brought in a foreigner, someone from outside, to be elected. There is something like this now."