Parliament attacks isolated Walesa

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The Independent Online
LECH WALESA was embroiled in the worst crisis of his four-year presidency yesterday after the lower house of Poland's parliament passed a motion accusing him of destabilising the constitutional order.

In an indication of Mr Walesa's almost total political isolation, the motion was passed by 305 votes to 18 with 22 abstentions and drew support from deputies belonging to government and opposition parties alike. It has no legal implications for Mr Walesa's position as head of state, but underlines the degree to which the former Solidarity trade union leader has moved from being a national hero in the Eighties crusade against Communism to a virtual outcast among Poland's political elite.

Support from former Solidarity colleagues has drained away, and few mainstream politicians seem inclined to back his attempt to win a second presidential term in elections due in late 1995. 'The shocking thing is that the president, rather than being the guardian of the constitution and the law in Poland, treats this law and our constitution in an altogether light- hearted way,' said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, once one of Mr Walesa's closest Solidarity aides.

Parliament's lower house, the Sejm, adopted its condemnation after Mr Walesa's demanded, on Monday, the resignation of the Defence Minister, Piotr Kolodziejczyk, saying he was unhappy with the process of armed forces' reform. He believed the minister had lost the support of senior military commanders.

However, Poland's ruling left- wing coalition parties and members of the centre-right opposition contended that Mr Walesa's main purpose was to assert direct presidential control over the armed forces. They accused Mr Walesa of exceeding his authority on the ground that only the Prime Minister, Waldemar Pawlak, had the right to remove a minister.

The roots of the dispute lie in a prolonged conflict between Mr Walesa and parliament over what sort of democracy Poland should have: a largely presidential system, as in France, a German-style parliamentary system, or a mixed system as in the United States.

Mr Walesa argues that the need to maintain the pace of post-Communist political and economic reform means the presidency must be strengthened, but opponents suspect him of authoritarian leanings.

The conflict has grown more intense since reformed Communists came to power in parliamentary elections in September 1993. The new left-wing government has appeared to undermine many of the achievements of Poland's early post-Communist years by purging local authorities, attempting to pass highly restrictive media laws and slowing the pace of industrial privatisation, especially in the foreign trade sector. Mr Walesa has also clashed with former Communists over their efforts to liberalise abortion.

However, even many of the president's former Solidarity allies say they fear that he, rather than the former Communists, is now the main problem. At a meeting on Wednesday before the parliamentary vote, some of Mr Walesa's closest Solidarity friends of the 1980s - such as Zbigniew Bujak, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk and Tadeusz Mazowiecki - told the president that, while they had been with him in the struggle against totalitarianism, they now regarded him as a threat to democracy.

Mr Walesa hit back: 'Everything I do is for the sake of Poland, honesty and patriotism. You accuse me too hastily.'