- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

WARSAW — The political descendants of the Solidarity trade union, which set into motion the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War, are poised to return to power in Poland for the first time in a decade in the political wilderness.

Former communists have held power since the mid-1990s, leading the country into NATO and the European Union.

But corruption, scandals and a stubbornly high rate of unemployment have alienated the public, said Konstanty Gebert, a columnist for Gazeta Wyborca, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

“The post-communists will be roundly defeated” in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, he predicted. “This is mainly due to the fact that the government has been characterized by incompetence, arrogance and corruption on a scale previously unknown in post-communist Poland.”

Solidarity was a free trade union that grew out of food and wage protests in the late 1970s.

Led by Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker from Gdansk, it grew to a membership of more than 9 million. In 1981, Solidarity began speaking publicly of a post-communist government, prompting authorities to jail Mr. Walesa and other Solidarity leaders.

Solidarity and its leaders quickly became folk heroes in Poland and symbols in the West of the Cold War struggle against communism.

In April 1989, the government and the trade union reached an agreement that included free elections. Candidates endorsed by Solidarity were swept into power.

Mr. Walesa later became president.

However the transition from a socialist to market-based economy proved painful, with inflation, unemployment and other social ills turning voters against Solidarity.

Former communists took control of parliament in 1993. Mr. Walesa lost the presidency in 1995 to Aleksandr Kwasniewski, also a former communist.

Parliamentary elections will be held Sunday, with a presidential vote to follow two weeks later.

The parliamentary ballot is expected to mark the end of the Democratic Left Alliance’s minority government and close out the career of Mr. Kwasniewski, who is prohibited from running for another term.

The left-wing leadership likely will be replaced by a pro-market government, as two conservative parties are far ahead of the rest of the field.

With 42 percent backing in the most recent poll, the dominant Civic Platform (PO) party could gain enough seats under Poland’s electoral system to win a clear majority.

The party is expected to form a coalition with the Law and Justice (PiS), which won 24 percent in the poll.

Civic Platform has proposed ambitious economic reforms, and voters seem ready to get on board.

The party’s leaders say they will maintain, if not strengthen, relations with the United States and the European Union.

The reform platform calls for revamping the constitution and a wholesale restructuring of the government bureaucracy.

Such dramatic changes require a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm.

Lukas Pawlowski, the head of Civic Platform’s public relations office, said a broad conservative coalition is critical.

“We need the serious support of the PiS,” he said. “Let’s get rid of the Senate; we don’t need it. Let’s cut the Sejm in half, from 460 to 230 seats.”

The conservative coalition also has proposed a 15 percent flat-rate tax.

Polls also show the Civic Platform presidential candidate Donald Tusk with a commanding lead over leftist rival Lech Kaczynski, the mayor of Warsaw, in the Oct. 9 vote.

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