In President Lech Walesa's first major legislative defeat, the Parliament on Saturday rejected his call to disband immediately and voted instead to hold parliamentary elections in the fall.
By a vote of 314 to 18, the lower chamber, or Sejm, decided to work through the summer and hold elections by Oct. 30. The elections, which Walesa wanted to conduct by May 26, would be the nation's first fully free parliamentary vote since World War II.
"The Sejm missed its chance and thus its credibility ended," said a statement by leaders of the pro-Walesa party, the Center Alliance. "Poland should not be the last country in Europe without free elections."
Walesa had requested that the Parliament step down immediately. The legislature was elected in June, 1989, under a formula that reserved two-thirds of its seats for the Communists and allied parties.
During debate last week, former Communist or Communist-allied deputies, who have only a slim chance of being reelected, argued against breaking up the body for spring elections. They said the chamber has important tasks to finish and claimed that there was insufficient time for an election campaign before a scheduled June visit by Pope John Paul II.
Walesa, saying he wanted a Parliament with a small number of strong parties, also has proposed election rules under which half of the Sejm's members would be elected in a winner-take-all vote.
The other half of the seats would be distributed proportionally according to the overall vote, a formula that might allow representation to some minor parties. Walesa said he wanted to avoid a Parliament made up of many small contingents forming unstable coalitions.
Walesa also suggested allowing the 100-member Senate, freely elected in 1989, to continue its term. But that proposal also was rejected by Sejm deputies, who favor election of both chambers at the same time.