Polish Government and Parliament clash

Wednesday, September 18, 1991

By Sally Low

Capitalist restoration in Poland is demonstrating an inability to coexist with even the formalities of parliamentary democracy. This is the explanation of the struggle between parliament and the executive power in the person of President Lech Walesa.

With elections due on October 27, members of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, refused on August 30 to approve spending cuts for social welfare and public sector wages. The government is trying to avoid a possible US$2 billion budget deficit.

In response to the proposed spending cuts Wieslawa Ziolkowska, parliamentary leader of the Union of Labour, one of the ex-Communist Party groups, called for the government's resignation but asked it to stay on in a caretaker role until the election. Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki then submitted the government's resignation, but it was rejected by parliament.

Having in effect won a vote of confidence, the government then sought temporary special powers to issue economic decrees with the force of law. It also proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the president rather than the legislature to appoint the government.

Over the September 7-8 weekend, parliament referred the question of economic decree to a committee, thus postponing a vote for at least a week. It is likely to reject the constitutional amendment.

"There is now a strong feeling against the government's monetary policies", claims Jozef Pinior of the Socialist and Political Centre in Wroclaw and prominent left opponent of the former regime.

Unemployment (already 8.9%), higher prices and real wage cuts have caused discontent among workers.

There have been strikes around issues such as pay and redundancy. According to Pinior, these actions are motivated by a very basic level of working-class consciousness. While the overwhelming majority of Poles originally supported the restorationist program of finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz, many are now driven to act against its concrete effects, and some are becoming sceptical about the whole project.

Of particular significance, says Pinior, is the widespread feeling against the Solidarity trade union. A symbol of workers' resistance to the old regime, the union is now dominated by bureaucrats who support the government's program rather than its members'

interests.

This opens up a new situation. Solidarity is losing its ability to enforce austerity measures.

"The government is very weak now because workers are showing some resistance to privatisation. The government needs more powers to push its program through", Pinior explained. Police were recently sent against hunger-striking car workers.

Throughout this year, government leaders have accused the Sejm of delaying legislation essential to their economic program. Because, under the April 1990 round-table agreement, Communist Party members were guaranteed 65% of the seats in the Sejm, they have been a convenient target for the government's anger.

Walesa does not hide his impatience with the trappings of democracy and his wish for more power to appoint and therefore control the government. In June he threatened to dissolve the Sejm when a large majority, including members of the Democratic Union led by former Solidarity intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki, rejected his proposed electoral law. Walesa wanted to make it compulsory for voters to choose only a party, whereas his opponents wanted them to vote for both party and candidate.

After October 27, the government will most likely turn further to the right. Pinior thinks the new parliament will be under strong pressure to accept "some kind of authoritarian push" to turn it into a compliant tool of the government and of Walesa. Several Polish commentators predict it will survive only for about six months.

A low voter turnout is very likely. The ex-Stalinist parties, the largest of which is now called Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, could expect to win 10-15% of the vote.

Some members and supporters of the Socialist Political Centre will stand on a national "Solidarity of Labour" ticket. A loose and politically heterogeneous left-leaning movement, Solidarity of Labour advocates in its election platform:

  • opposition to the economic program of the government;

  • an end to rapid privatisation;

  • state intervention;

  • a return to the Solidarity program of 1980-81, which called for self-management and a planned economy modified by the market.

"Basically they are against the Balcerowicz Plan", says

Pinior. He thinks the new organisation may gain around 3% of the vote — enough to entitle it to parliamentary representatives.

In the long term, he is hopeful a new left force will emerge from among what he calls the ex-Solidarity left and the ex-Stalinist left. Both Solidarity and Stalinism are discredited and so, he says, there will be space for something new.

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