Presidency in Doubt as Polish Legislators Meet

Times Staff Writer

The first freely elected legislative body in the East Bloc opened for business here Tuesday against a backdrop of continued political confusion over who eventually will be chosen as the new Polish head of state.

A total of 98 Solidarity members and one official backed by the Communist Party took the oath of office for the newly constituted Senate and set about routine opening-day business, including calling for a by-election to replace one Solidarity-backed senator who has died of a heart attack since his election.

New Oath of Office

In the lower house of Parliament, or Sejm, 161 Solidarity members were sworn in along with 299 Communist-coalition members, adopting a new oath of office that substituted a pledge to work for “Poland’s good” in place of a promise to promote the nation’s “socialist development.”


Honored seats were reserved at both sessions, the Sejm in the morning and the Senate in the afternoon, for two leaders who have taken pains so far to hold themselves above the fray--Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Communist Party chief, and Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader.

Neither of the two men stood for office in the elections, denoting the status that is reserved for both from their respective camps. In the Senate session, the two sat side by side as a leading Solidarity adviser, Andrzej Stelmachowski, was elected Senate Speaker without opposition.

While this scene, broadcast on television as a national spectacle, was carried out, the Politburo of the Communist Party also was meeting, with apparently inconclusive results, to decide on its candidate for president.

Jaruzelski, party chief since 1981, announced Friday that he would not be a candidate for president because, he said, most of his countrymen associate him more with the 13-month period of martial law he imposed at the height of Solidarity activism than with the wave of political reform currently under way.


Jaruzelski’s withdrawal, which drew a prompt resolution from the party’s Central Committee and parliamentary deputies urging him to reconsider, has resulted in four days of turmoil and consternation within the ranks of the party and Solidarity.

The turmoil has been heightened by the impending arrival Sunday of President Bush, as officials had hoped to have the new and powerful office of president filled by the time Bush’s plane lands.

Sources from both Solidarity and the government suggest that the conflict within the Communist Party, whose deputies must agree on a candidate, is so intense that the decision may be delayed until after Bush’s visit. In that case Jaruzelski, as party leader, would meet with Bush as the nominal head of the Polish state.

Speculation on the eventual holder of the office centers on Jaruzelski and Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the minister of internal affairs. Kiszczak is a party liberal who won support with Solidarity activists for his leadership of the government side in negotiations that eventually led to the partially free elections.


“It is a completely open situation,” a Communist Party Sejm deputy said. “Who will be the party leader, who will be the president, who will be the premier--we have no idea right now.”

Walesa, in a meeting with Solidarity national assembly members over the weekend, threw his support behind Kiszczak, who opened the discussions last August that led to the trade union’s legalization.

On the other hand, Kiszczak, 63, seems to have less support from the ranks of the party, whose coalition forces will be needed to ensure his election.

In a situation that diplomats and partisans from both sides described as “extremely fluid,” the widespread speculation was that Jaruzelski would be persuaded to accept the presidency.


A proposal by Soldiarity theorist Adam Michnik that Solidarity form the government and the Communists accept the presidency was also in the wind, but it seemed to have many opponents on both sides. A widely held view on the Solidarity side is that the union is not ready to accept responsibility for the government.