Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Faltering Reforms Push Communists to Top in Polish Campaign

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Faltering Reforms Push Communists to Top in Polish Campaign

Article excerpt

THE WHITE-HAIRED MAN up front was yelling, waving his arms, furious. "You don't have the right to be called left-wing!" he shouted.

"I'm accusing you, Mr. Kwasniewski, of supporting the privatization bill - and this caused unemployment, no money for schools, no money for hospitals!"

"Capitalism was destroying us," yelled a second elderly man," and is destroying us right now!"

Alexander Kwasniewski, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, buried his head in his hands and laughed. At this campaign rally, he was being attacked as not being far enough to the left instead of being too far.

That's a twist for a man who tries again and again to persuade critics that his party is free of old-guard Communists, supports a free press and backs a free market.

So far, his success has shocked reformers from the world-renowned Solidarity movement; opinion polls say Poland's hated former Communists are leading the pack as Sunday's parliamentary elections approach.

Known by its Polish initials SLD, the Left Alliance grew out of the old ruling party and is despised and mistrusted by many Poles.

But as privatization falters and unemployment soars above 15 percent, other voters are looking back at the days of zero unemployment and wondering whether capitalism is such a good idea after all.

In Poland, where more than 200 parties are registered, the SLD won't have a majority in the Senate or in the Sejm, parliament's more powerful lower house, even if it does come in first.

The latest polls showed the SLD with between 15 and 20 percent of the vote, with the Polish Peasants Party, the reform-oriented Democratic Union and the left-leaning, Solidarity-based Union of Labor running behind it.

But President Lech Walesa, acknowledging that the SLD may end up with more seats than anyone else, said that in such a case he'd allow the party to nominate a prime minister and try to form a cabinet. …

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