'Ice-man' Pawlak is nominated as Polish PM

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WALDEMAR PAWLAK, who was nominated as Poland's next prime minister yesterday by President Lech Walesa, is a former farm manager who once belonged to a Communist satellite political party.

Mr Pawlak, 34, leads the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), one of two left-wing movements which will dominate Poland's new government after winning elections last month.

He already has the distinction of having been Poland's youngest ever prime minister. He held the post for 33 days last year but resigned because he could not form a coalition government. This time his tenure of office is likely to be longer, since the PSL and its partner, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), control 303 seats in the 460-member lower house of parliament and 73 seats in the 100-member senate.

Mr Pawlak became leader of the PSL in June 1991 and, according to the weekly Polityka, quickly earned a reputation as a tenacious negotiator who was 'as cold as ice'. But his right-wing opponents were more concerned about his previous political background.

Mr Pawlak graduated from the automotive and agricultural machinery department of Warsaw Polytechnic and in 1984 took over a small family farm in the village of Kamionka, north-west of Warsaw. In 1985 he joined the United Peasant Party (ZSL), an obedient servant of the Communist Party which had suppressed the Solidarity free trade union four years earlier.

Mr Pawlak and other ZSL activists grew increasingly distant from the Communists in 1989 and eventually joined Solidarity in the coalition that broke the Communist power monopoly. The ZSL then merged with a peasants' movement from the democratic opposition and the new party called itself the PSL.

Since both the PSL and the SLD have Communist origins, some Western and Polish commentators have expressed concern that the new government may slow down the generally successful free-market reforms of the last four years. The PSL and SLD say they favour more social welfare spending and more state intervention but otherwise support Poland's new free-market system.

Another question mark will hang over the new government's ability to co-operate with Mr Walesa. The President made clear in the election campaign that he did not wish to see a left-wing victory.

However, he suffered a blow to his authority when his own movement, the Non-Party Bloc to Support Reform, won only 16 seats in the lower house and three in the senate.

Mr Walesa will fight to retain influence over defence and foreign affairs, but the left-wing government may prove powerful enough to reverse recent gains made by the Catholic Church in social matters such as abortion and religious education in state schools.