- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

WARSAW — Parliamentary elections next month are expected to mark a crushing defeat for Poland's Solidarity-led government, as well as the demise of Solidarity itself as a political force.
The government of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, elected with the trade union's support four years ago on a platform of competency in government and "clean hands," is perceived by the public to have failed on both counts.
Opinion surveys ahead of the Sept. 23 vote show enough support for the former communist-led opposition to win an outright majority, while Mr. Buzek's now-splintered party has lost the backing of Solidarity and could be shut out of parliament altogether.
In the past month, Mr. Buzek has had to dismiss his deputy defense minister and his communications minister for corruption and malfeasance.
He also has fired the head of a committee overseeing payment of German reparations to Polish wartime slave workers, accusing the committee head of incompetence after $50 million of the slaves' compensation was lost because of an unfavorable exchange rate.
In addition, the head of the state-owned insurance company was arrested over irregularities that cost the firm millions of dollars.
Investors delivered their own "vote of no confidence" in Poland's leadership on Friday by sending the Warsaw Stock Exchange's leading index to a 45-month low because of a yawning shortfall in the 2001 state budget and the government's failure last week to agree on an austerity spending plan for 2002.
"The elections will probably mark the end of a very strong faction of the right, hitherto the leading force — the Solidarity trade union," said Marek Matraszek, a political analyst with the consulting firm CEC Government Relations.
"What remains of the [conservative] parties is a rump, and it will likely disappear in the elections. And what is left after that will redefine the nature of the right."
Mr. Buzek came to power in 1997 at the head of a coalition comprising the center-right Solidarity Election Action (AWS) movement and the center-left Freedom Union, pledging a wide range of public-sector reforms.
The coalition pushed through legislation overhauling health care, social security, education and government administration in 1999. But the health care and social security reforms were poorly conceived and the government's popularity plummeted, prompting political infighting within the AWS.
Meanwhile, Poland's dynamic growth rate — the result of its "shock therapy" economic reforms of 1990 slowed because of the 1998 Russian economic crisis and the global slump that began last year. Gross domestic product growth is estimated at 2.3 percent this year, compared with better than 4 percent in 1999 and 2000.
The breakdown of the Solidarity political movement accelerated in September when its presidential candidate, Marian Krzaklewski, was thrashed by incumbent Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former head of the Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD.
The Freedom Union, the business-oriented party behind the economic reforms that had pushed Poland to 6 percent national growth rates, quit the coalition over disagreements on economic policy. Several of its most respected politicians joined a new business-oriented party, the Civic Platform (OP), which swiftly established itself as a mouthpiece for the developing middle class.
Last spring, Mr. Krzaklewski announced that the Solidarity union no longer would be part of the political movement, and henceforth would function only as a trade union.
It seemed things couldn't get worse for the government, but they did. In early July, Mr. Buzek dismissed his popular justice minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in a dispute over the arrest of an intelligence service officer. That decision split the AWS into two major factions, with Mr. Kaczynski heading the Law and Justice Party and Mr. Buzek in charge of a party called Solidarity Electoral Action of the Right (AWSP).


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