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Jaruzelski Sworn In as Polish President : Communist Party Leader Wins Post Without a Vote to Spare

Times Staff Writer

Communist Party leader Wojciech Jaruzelski was sworn in as Poland’s new president Wednesday night after winning election in the National Assembly without a single vote to spare.

“I accept,” Gen. Jaruzelski said upon arriving before the packed chamber to be officially informed of the result.

“I want to be a president of reconciliation, a representative of all Poles,” he said, without referring to the narrowness of the victory or the last swipe taken by the opposition, which took pains to put on record that Jaruzelski had won the minimum number of votes necessary.

The vote was 270 for Jaruzelski, 233 against and 34 abstaining. With a total of 537 valid votes cast, the lawmakers initially declared that 269 were required to win. After some debate, led by opposition Solidarity lawmakers, the assembly voted to declare that 270 votes was the minimum.

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Trace of Malice

This numerical fine-tuning had more than a trace of malice in it. But to Solidarity members and many Poles who watched the eight-hour procedure on television, it was a last protest against Jaruzelski and the current hybrid political system--almost free, but not quite--that presented only one choice to lawmakers.

Some of those who abstained, in fact, announced that they were withholding their votes as a protest against an election with just one candidate.

The National Assembly, composed of the Sejm and the newly created Senate, spent nearly two hours on a series of motions to decide whether the vote would be taken by secret ballot or an open roll call.

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“We’re sinking in procedural matters,” argued one lawmaker, trying to sort out the welter of overlapping motions.

“It’s getting a bit chaotic,” agreed Sejm Speaker Mikolaj Kozakiewicz.

In the end, a compromise was reached in which the lawmakers marked ballots that were dropped, one by one, in a box on the rostrum as the names were called. The votes of individual members, it was agreed, are to be published. (In one motion before the floor, only the leaders of the various parties would be informed as to how members voted, which prompted Solidarity activist Adam Michnik to comment that such a provision would not prevent the “secret police from knowing how we voted.”)

Given the closeness of the vote, an open roll call would have provided millions of television viewers with one of the most dramatic spectacles in Polish political history--and might well have altered the outcome.

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Riveting Theater

Even so, it was riveting theater, as television cameras hovered over the table where parliamentary secretaries counted, sorted, stacked and then recounted the ballots. Dozens of newly elected senators and Sejm deputies crowded at the rostrum rail over the counting table, watching the tally.

“I state that citizen Wojciech Jaruzelski has received the required number of votes and has been elected by the National Assembly to be president of the Polish People’s Republic,” Kozakiewicz said after the count was completed.

Kozakiewicz and Senate Speaker Andrzej Stelmachowski then went to Jaruzelski’s office to escort him to the National Assembly building.

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Jaruzelski, 66, in a blue suit and his familiar tinted glasses, made a low-key speech, noting that the nation had embarked on a “crucial period of change” and that “the attention of the world is focused on Poland.”

“We face great demands and tasks,” he said. “We must rebuild our economy. We have to assemble a new political order.”

He concluded: “I will serve the nation. I will serve the fatherland, the one that has not perished, the one that is and will be.”

Jaruzelski’s election came after nearly three weeks of uncertainty. On June 30, after it appeared that some of the Communist coalition’s partners were hesitant in their support, he withdrew from the race, saying that most of the public identified him more with the 1981 imposition of martial law and the suppression of Solidarity than with the government’s reform track over the last two years.

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However, the party’s rank and file quickly realized after Jaruzelski’s withdrawal that it had no acceptable alternative. After two weeks of hard consideration and political arm twisting, the Communist allies in the Peasants’ Party and the Democratic Party somewhat reluctantly came along.

In fact, Jaruzelski’s close scrape in the election was not foreseen in April, when “round-table” agreements were concluded between Solidarity and the government. Although it was not a formal part of the arrangement, the labor union and the government side agreed that Jaruzelski would be president. The threat to that arrangement came from the party’s once-reliable friends, urgently looking for a way out of what they perceive as a sinking political ship.

With his stern face and erect military bearing, Jaruzelski projects an air of strong pride, reflected in an interview last month in which he declared that “I will not crawl for this job.”

In the end, however, he did campaign for the presidency within the political parties of the Sejm, even meeting Tuesday with the Solidarity delegation for six grueling hours of questioning.

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Many of those questions centered on the martial-law declaration and the accompanying arrests and crackdown on civil liberties. And the overwhelming majority of the Solidarity delegation is equally critical about Jaruzelski’s leadership in the years since, during which, it is argued, Poland’s economic slide continued unabated.

For Jaruzelski, the presidency is the culmination of his career and offers a chance for him to enter Polish history as a figure more positive than the commissar of martial law, a step that his supporters contend saved the nation from a Soviet invasion.

Jaruzelski’s first order of business will be to appoint a prime minister, who will then put together Poland’s next government. Speculation has centered on Wladislaw Baka, a Politburo member and party economic specialist. Political observers say the government is likely to rely more than ever on technocratic experts, rather than political figures.

Jaruzelski is also expected to resign his post as party leader, thereby establishing the principle that the head of state and the top post in the Communist Party should be separated.

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