Lawmakers today elected Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the East Bloc's first non-Communist prime minister, handing him a historic mandate to lead Poland out of economic ruin.
Mazowiecki, a former political prisoner, was approved by a 378-4 vote in the Sejm, the lower house of the National Assembly. There were 41 abstentions.
Members of every party, including the Communists, supported Mazowiecki.
The vote was greeted by a standing ovation, and Mazowiecki immediately rose to say, "I am very touched at this moment. I thank you, high chamber, for this great proof of trust.
"I am counting on cooperation with the Sejm and Senate. . . . This moment shall become an essential moment in order for us to raise up Poland together."
Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, said: "I will do everything so that my premier, my child, our child, passes the test before society."
Speaking to reporters in Gdansk, Walesa called the election "an event without precedent" and wished Mazowiecki luck in "transforming our country from a totalitarian system to democracy."
The Sejm alone elects the premier. Thirty-seven members of the 460-member chamber were absent for the vote.
After Mazowiecki's election, 15 Communist lawmakers submitted a proposal to drop from the Constitution a clause that mandates the Communist Party be the "leading political force" in society.
Mazowiecki had been recommended for the office of prime minister by Walesa and nominated on Saturday by Communist President Wojciech Jaruzelski, who accepted Walesa's once-inconceivable proposition to form a non-Communist government in the Soviet Union's largest and most strategic East Bloc ally.
Jaruzelski did not attend the Sejm session. But Mazowiecki went to Belvedere Palace for a 30-minute meeting with Jaruzelski after the vote, PAP news agency said.
No details of the meeting were disclosed, but at a news conference later Mazowiecki said his initial contacts with the president led him to expect "full respect."
In Moscow, a Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yuri Gremitskikh, greeted the election with equanimity.
"The Soviet side takes the decision into account and we shall regard comrade Mazowiecki as our partner in the relations that link our two countries," he said.
President Bush praised Mazowiecki's election. "We wish him well, of course," Bush said in Maine. "It's a fascinating period in Eastern Europe."
Jaruzelski agreed to nominate Mazowiecki after Solidarity earlier refused to participate in a government formed by the Communists after parliamentary elections in June.
Walesa argued that because Solidarity won the elections overwhelmingly, it had a mandate to form a government that would win public confidence.
In an initial act of support for a Solidarity-led government, workers today suspended several small strikes throughout the country.