Tired of Fast Reform, Polish Voters Swing Back to Communists

POLISH voters swung left on Sunday, opening the way for the successor of the Communist Party to form a government. Poland is the first former East-bloc nation to overturn its unabashedly pro-market leadership in an election.

Although the final results of the national parliamentary elections are not expected until the weekend, exit-poll projections yesterday showed the former Communists, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), capturing nearly 21 percent of the vote, trailed by the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), a former Communist Party satellite, with more than 15 percent.

Because of a new election law eliminating parties with less than 5 percent of the electorate, parties finishing over that threshold will gain extra seats in the Sejm (parliament), giving the SLD and PSL a combined majority of more than 50 percent.

The left's victory is seen as a protest against the fast pace of economic reform led by parties springing from the Solidarity movement that opposed communism during the 1980s.

Poland was the first Soviet-bloc country to remove its Communist-led government in 1989, but disagreements among the parties that grew out of the Solidarity movement of the 1980s prevented them from forming a common front against the left.

Democratic Union, the largest of these parties, placed third with 10.6 percent of the vote, but has voiced aversion to taking part in a coalition led by the former Communists.

``We will be the strongest opposition in this parliament and we'll be following all their activities to not let them spoil Polish reforms,'' Democratic Union spokesman Andrzej Potocki said after viewing the first results Sunday night.

President Lech Walesa, who led Solidarity until 1990 when the public elected him to his current office, will be meeting with SLD leaders this week and is expected to appoint one of them prime minister. The leading candidate is Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the former Communists within the SLD phalanx of more than 20 left-wing organizations.

THE SLD portrays itself as a West European-type social democratic movement, and after the first projections of the election results came through, Mr. Kwasniewski assured journalists of his party's pro-capitalist stance.

``Foreign investors can be very satisfied because [the SLD] is really the party which is interested to open to foreign investors, to make stable laws for foreign investors, to make stable conditions for investments from abroad,'' he said in English, reminding his audience that roughly half of SLD deputies voted for the government's privatization program in the Sejm last spring.

Critics, however, say that the SLD may seek to maintain employment by raising taxes on prosperous private firms and distributing the revenue to ailing state-owned enterprises. Unemployment in August topped 2.8 million (15.4 percent), providing an ample pool of discontented voters for left-wing parties.

The PSL has often been considered a natural coalition partner for the SLD, each having evolved from one of the two largest parties allowed to exist during communism.

The PSL managed to shirk some of its ``post-communist'' status in June last year when leader Waldemar Pawlak was asked by President Walesa to form a Cabinet. Still, the PSL is often criticized for its support of protectionism and its desire to provide farmers cheap credit at rates lower than inflation.

Kwasniewski said his party would like to form a wide governing coalition, not ruling out the Democratic Union or Union of Labor, a social democratic party that sprang from Solidarity.

Twenty-nine parties sat in the previous Sejm, but because of the new election law, only six are expected to qualify now, including the populist Confederation for an Independent Poland and Walesa's Non-Party Bloc to Support Reform.

Poland's largest Roman Catholic party, Christian National Union, failed to reach the Sejm, a sign jibing with the SLD's claim that Polish society is unhappy with the Church's role in politics.

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