President Lech Walesa yesterday issued an extraordinary appeal to Polish deputies to vote themselves out of a job, warning that if they did not, he might do it for them. In a televised address, Mr Walesa sought to achieve the greatest possible dramatic effect in what appeared to be an attempt to bring to a head months of wrangling with parliament, in particular with the left-dominated government.
"I am asking you gentlemen, give in, otherwise history will not forgive you," Mr Walesa said. "Please step down if you have no other ideas and no new people but only the will to hang on ... Otherwise, I will take the decision, in the full conviction that
it is in the interest of Poland."
The speech did not have much effect. At the end of the day, parliament did not decide to end its existence and the government was still in place.
Most MPs made it clear that if Mr Walesa carried out his threat against parliament, they would try to impeach the President by bringing him before a special tribunal.
"Mr President, please don't do it," implored Bronislaw Geremek, a leader of the opposition Freedom Union and a former Walesa ally. "You have no right to do it and you will be breaking the constitution."
Mr Walesa has accused the coalition government, composed of the former Communist SLD and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), of halting economic reform, of allowing corruption and of trying to encroach on his presidential prerogatives.
Most commentators see his actions as a tactic to win a second term of office in presidential elections due later this year. One part of Mr Walesa's strategy could be to sow confusion on the left and present himself as the only person who can prevent a return to Communism.
He was in fighting form yesterday, as was shown in a lively exchange with Jozef Oleksy, the SLD Speaker of the lower house of parliament. "I am offended in public, insults are thrown at me," Mr Walesa said. "It is distasteful, Mr Speaker, that you are posing as the defender of democracy while I remember how you were defending democracy ... when you were part of the Communist government."
It was a vintage performance from the former Solidarity leader. Although MPs are almost unanimous in their condemnation of the President's latest moves, they may yet serve his purpose.
One victory that appears to be within the President's grasp is the probable resignation of the Prime Minister, Waldemar Pawlak. Aleksander Kwasniewski, leader of the SLD, said at the weekend that he would take over as prime minister if need be, a suggestion that yesterday appeared to find support in Mr Pawlak's PSL party.
Mr Walesa has said that he would find Mr Kwasniewski an acceptable alternative, in spite of his Communist past. According to some reports, the President simply wants the previously popular Mr Kwasniewski to take the flak for unpopular government decisions. But if the SLD leader is appointed prime minister, most observers believe it will not be long before the political battle starts again.
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