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Europe

Poland To Seek New Leader on Eve of EU Entry

Ruling Social Democrats in Poland said Saturday they would build a new government after Prime Minister Leszek Miller leaves office once he has led the country into the European Union.

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Political uncertainty in Warsaw is clouding the approach to EU accession in May.

On Friday, Miller ceded to a revolt led by rebels in his party, the Democratic Left Alliance (DLA), and said he would resign from office on May 2 -- just one day after his country joins the European Union.

Miller's resignation didn't come as a surprise. Members of his Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) had been waging an open mutiny after Miller's popularity plunged because of a soaring unemployment rate of 20 percent, unpopular social reforms and spending cuts required to bring the country into line with EU requirements and party sleaze scandals. Indeed, Miller's government has the least support of any government in the country since 1989. In early March, he stepped back from the leadership of the SLD, the successor to Poland's communist party. This week, he took the final step.

Party officials said Saturday they had not yet found a candidate to replace Miller, but speculation is focusing ona number of possible candidates, including former finance minister Marek Belka and Interior Minister Jozef Oleksy, who also served as a Polish prime minister during the 1990s.

No early poll expected

"Poland is going through a crisis and a way out of it is a change of government," SLD leader Krzsztof Janik told reporters Saturday. "The condition for an effective change of government is a stable parliamentary and government majority coalition." Janik said his party did not see any reason to hold early elections unless a new government could not otherwise be formed. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2005.

Before Miller announced he would resign Friday, 22 members of the DLA's 192 elected politicians resigned en masse to create their own rival left-wing party, saying they were tired of Miller's policies and the public backlash they stirred up.

As a minority ruling party, DLA lacked a majority in parliament even before the defections, and with public support of only 9 percent according to the Associated Press, the party is likely to face difficult negotiations to form a new government. If it is unable to create a new government by May 16, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said it may be inevitable that early elections be called.

Current polls show Miller's party, the former communists, trailing the opposition center-right Civic Platform and Self-Defense, a radical farmers' party that opposes EU membership.

The editorial pages of leading Polish newspapers gave mixed reviews to the announcement. The Rzeczpospolita daily wrote that "it is not good that the political crisis coincides with Poland's near entry to the EU. On the other hand, the Alliance is split and incapable of leading the country. It is in the nation's interest to have this situation for as short a time as possible."

Support for Iraq force unchanged

Few observers expect the change in leadership will have any effect on Poland's support for the occupation of Iraq, where 2,400 Polish troops are participating in a 9,500 soldier international peacekeeping force that is supporting the American and British troops who invaded the country one year ago and toppled the government of Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to AP, former Polish defense minister Bronislaw Komorowski said: "This will have no effect on our presence in Iraq because the president clearly said that in the new government the defense and foreign ministers will remain unchanged, to guarantee continuation of our policy."

Leaders to meet

President Kwasniewski is expected to meet on Monday with the leaders of Polish parliamentary parties as well as the country's most important ministers, their aids and the presidential cabinet to discuss the crisis. At the meeting, Kwaniewski is expected to name his candidate for prime minister.

Kwasniewski said he believed there would be a smooth governmental transition and that Poland's path to the European Union would not be threatened. By May 16, the new government and its prime minister must be approved by parliament with a minimum of 230 votes. But the country is under tremendous time pressure: It joins the EU on May 1 and must organize its first European Parliament election by June 13.

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  • Date 27.03.2004
  • Author DW Staff (dsl)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4pzC
  • Date 27.03.2004
  • Author DW Staff (dsl)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4pzC