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Former Communists Win Elections in Poland - 2001-09-24

The Solidarity bloc that led Poland out of communism was voted out of parliament Sunday, according to preliminary election results. Projections Monday showed a victory for former communists, although they fell short of an outright parliamentary majority.

The outcome of Sunday's parliamentary elections sealed the political demise of Solidarity, once the most popular trade union and party in Poland. Solidarity was founded in 1980 by Lech Walesa, who later received the Noble Peace Prize and went on to become Poland's first democratically-elected president. The movement was was credited with the downfall of communism and the country's entry into NATO in 1999.

But more than a decade after the collapse of communism, Solidarity was punished Sunday by many of the same voters who led it to victory for what analysts described as "years of bungled reforms," allegations of corruption and unemployment that has soared to 16 percent.

Solidarity ran into problems in 1995, when President Walesa lost his re-election bid, and Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist, was voted into office as president.

In 1997, a Solidarity-led government returned to power, hoping to prove it could do a better job than former communist politicians. Many Poles apparently disagreed, and first projections released Monday showed that Solidarity will not even have the necessary votes to stay in the lower house of parliament. Final results are not expected until later in the week.

Outgoing Solidarity Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told reporters that the election defeat was the price his party had to pay for taking political risks.

The opposition and former communist Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD, won with about 40 percent of the vote. But the SLD is at least 10 seats short of an outright majority, and will have to form a coalition government.

Polish commentators have said that these developments may undermine efforts to undertake the tough budget and social reforms Poland needs to join the European Union by 2004.

Analysts say several populist parties and groups set up by Solidarity dissidents may use their strong parliamentary position to focus on anti-European Union sentiment. Poland hopes to enter the European Union with Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller looks set to become Poland's new prime minister. He said he is disappointed that his party will not have a parliamentary majority.

Mr. Miller suggested that creating a coalition government will mean making compromises that could slow a revival of Poland's embattled economy and its ambitions to be integrated into Western institutions.