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Walesa threatened with `trial' by MPs

The Polish President, Lech Walesa, could be hauled before a special tribunal if he carries out a threat to dissolve parliament as part of a long dispute with the government.

Jozef Oleksy, Speaker of the Sejm (lower house) said yesterday that Mr Walesa would go on trial before the State Tribunal if he went ahead with "an attempt to violate the constitution". Other MPs also expressed horror over the threat, saying the President had no legal right to dissolve parliament.

"Mr Walesa seems to think that Poland is his private back yard," said Marek Siwiec of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the largest party in the ruling coalition. "He wants to be the one and only king who can do whatever he wants." When Mr Walesa hinted at a possible dissolution on Thursday he justified it on grounds that the three-month deadline for the passage of this year's budget was about to expire. According to his lawyers, such a move would be possible under the constitution - even though it isthe President rather than parliament that has blocked the budget.

In a radio address, Mr Walesa said he had sought to reach agreement but had failed. "I have no choice but to dissolve parliament," he declared. "I appeal to you to elect a better one."

For all the rhetoric, most commentators believe that, rather than fresh elections, Mr Walesa's real aim is to bring about a collapse of the coalition between the SLD - successors to the former Communist Party - and the Polish Peasant Party, led by Waldemar Pawlak.

In particular, he wants to see the downfall of Mr Pawlak, whom he accuses of blocking economic reform and trying to encroach into areas of power constitutionally accorded to the President. They have been at loggerheads for almost three months over who should have the final say in the appointments of foreign, defence and interior ministers.

Mr Pawlak, who is simultaneously under fire from his SLD partners, yesterday brushed aside suggestions that he may be forced to resign. He has also dismissed Mr Walesa's threats as a bluff and part of the President's concerted campaign to be re-elected in November's election.

Most commentators in Warsaw agree that the campaign forms the backdrop to nearly all Mr Walesa's actions. According to some, he would like fresh parliamentary elections so a government could be formed with which he could get along. According to others, he simply wants Mr Pawlak removed and replaced by the charismatic SLD leader, Aleksander Kwasniewski, the man he most fears as a presidential contender.

Nearly all agree that Mr Walesa calculates he will gain if there is a general picture of confusion: with chaos all around, he hopes Poles will see him as a beacon of stability. Some commentators even suggest Mr Walesa would like to be put on trial beforethe tribunal so he could once again present himself as the victim of the post-Communists.

So will the President decide to dissolve parliament when he returns to work on Monday? "Nobody knows," conceded Helena Luczywo, editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza. "I don't know if Mr Walesa knows himself. He usually makes his decisions at the last minute."