Poland's ex-communists trounce Solidarity bloc in parliamentary elections

Monday, September 24th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Frustrated Polish voters handed power to a reformed party of ex-communists in parliamentary elections and sent the once-mighty Solidarity bloc into political oblivion, preliminary results indicated Monday.

But victory turned bittersweet for the Democratic Left Alliance and its small ally, the Labor Union, when overnight returns indicated they may not get the outright parliamentary majority they said was needed to form a stable government.

The lopsided vote nonetheless made it clear that the bickering and scandal-plagued Solidarity bloc, rooted in the mass movement that ousted communism in 1989, had lost all its seats.

``This means a great responsibility for us,'' said Democratic Left leader Leszek Miller, 55, who is poised to be the next prime minister. ``The outgoing government is leaving a lot of outstanding problems that need to be dealt with.''

Two private polling agencies said partial official results from a nationwide sample of voting stations showed the left with 219 of 460 seats in the Sejm, Parliament's dominant chamber. That figure is 12 seats short of a majority. An official tally is due Wednesday.

Miller had hoped to avoid being forced to ally with another party and risk divisive coalition politics like those that have bedeviled Solidarity. He acknowledged in a radio interview that he could face ``difficult talks, a waste of time, perhaps some fierce disputes.''

Miller's ascension won't mean any big changes in Poland's West-leaning foreign and economic policies. He pledges to stay firmly in the NATO alliance and support any military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He also says he will keep Poland, a country of 39 million, on course to join the European Union.

At home, Miller has promised to make government more attentive to worries of average Poles with whom Solidarity lost touch.

While Solidarity brought Poland into NATO in 1999 and made impressive economic reforms, Sunday's vote reflected widespread insecurity over scandals and unemployment that has soared to 16 percent despite economic growth.

A huge budget deficit further undermined the government's dim re-election chances, and will present an immediate test for the next Cabinet.

Both the PBS and OBOP private polling agencies forecast that the Democratic Left would end up with 41 to 42 percent of the popular vote, enough to secure 219 Sejm seats and more than 60 seats in the 100-member Senate.

Solidarity, which needed 8 percent to stay in Parliament under election rules, was forecast with just 5.5 percent, PBS said.

The results sealed the demise of Solidarity as a political force. The trade union that formed its core quit politics earlier this year, and many prominent activists defected to form competing parties.

``We have taken political risk and that costs,'' said Jerzy Buzek, the outgoing prime minister. ``This is a heavy blow for us.''

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an ex-communist who has cohabited uneasily with Solidarity for the past four years, said he hoped to convene the Sejm on Oct. 19 to approve a new Parliament.

One group of Solidarity defectors, the Civic Platform, finished a distant second with 13 percent of the vote, according to the PBS. The right-wing Law and Justice was polling 10 percent; and the Peasants Party, a group of farmers, was forecast to get 8.7 percent.

Two notoriously radical parties initially given little chance easily got enough votes to enter Parliament: Self-Defense, a noisy pro-farmer group that bitterly opposes European Union membership; and the League of Polish Families, a party of ultraconservative Roman Catholics.

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