Walesa Yields to Center-Right Coalition Choice of a Premier
Bowing finally to the complicated arithmetic of the fractured Polish Parliament, President Lech Walesa on Thursday nominated for prime minister the candidate proposed by a center-right coalition with the largest chunk of votes in the legislature.
The surprise nomination of Jan Olszewski, 61, a lawyer long associated with dissident politics, brought a burst of applause in the Sejm, the lower house of Parliament, which had met to accept the resignation of the outgoing government of Jan Krzysztof Bielecki.
The appointment of a new prime minister has been expected since Oct. 27, when parliamentary elections returned a total of 29 parties to the Sejm, significantly complicating Walesa’s task of picking a nominee acceptable to the entire Parliament.
Walesa had been reluctant to appoint Olszewski, who has spoken out against the crash economic policies of former Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz has guided Poland’s economic recovery program since the Solidarity-based government took over from the Communists two years ago.
Olszewski was the candidate backed from the beginning by a group of center-right parties controlling a block of 220 votes in the 460-member Parliament. It has been able to produce a working majority of about 260 votes by drawing support from smaller parties.
Walesa first attempted to bridge the various disputatious Solidarity-based groups in Parliament with the nomination of Bronislaw Geremek, a liberal, who had been Solidarity’s floor leader in the last Parliament. But the center-right coalition blocked the nomination, and Geremek withdrew.
Walesa put aside his reluctance to nominate Olszewski under pressure from the Parliament’s dominant coalition, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, formerly one of Walesa’s closest political operatives.
In a letter read by Wieslaw Chrzanowski, Speaker of the Parliament, Walesa said his decision to pick Olszewski underscores his intention to “abide by the rules of democracy.”
Olszewski told reporters that he hopes to form a new government quickly and said he wants to meet with Walesa soon to discuss the president’s ideas. “It is a very difficult mission,” he said.
Under Poland’s constitution, the Parliament must vote to approve Olszewski’s nomination and then ask him to form a government.
The new government will have to determine the size of next year’s budget deficit, a matter that has already raised concern in the International Monetary Fund, whose acceptance of government economic policies has been crucial for support from Western lenders.
The budget crisis has fueled much of the parliamentary opposition to the crash economic policies of Balcerowicz, as once well-financed state programs have suffered difficult cutbacks.
Also worrisome is a 30% slump in industrial production and about 2 million unemployed.
A new government under the current structure of Parliament may try to devise methods to help keep troubled state enterprises afloat, which could drive the budget deficit higher and threaten the support Poland has received from the IMF and Western lenders.
A government dominated by representatives of the prevailing center-right parties, however, is not likely to reverse the free-market course Poland has set. Whatever the official statistics say, there is little doubt in the minds of most Poles that they are better off today than they were under the Communists.