The Olszewski Government
After five weeks of struggle, Walesa reluctantly acceded to a Sejm coalition of five center-right parties by nominating Jan Olszewski of the Center Alliance as prime minister. Relations between the two men had been strained in early 1990 by Olszewski's initial refusal of the position of prime minister and by Walesa's fear that Olszewski would abandon the Balcerowicz economic reforms. At that point, Walesa had even threatened to assume the duties of prime minister himself.
Although supported by a fragile, unlikely coalition that included the Confederation for an Independent Poland and the Liberal-Democratic Congress, Olszewski was confirmed as prime minister. Within days, however, the coalition began to disintegrate. Although the Liberal-Democratic Congress had been promised a decisive role in setting economic policy, the futility of that promise soon drove the party out of the coalition. Next to leave was the ultranationalist Confederation for Independent Poland, which was alienated when it was denied control of the Ministry of National Defense. A frustrated Olszewski submitted his resignation only two weeks after his nomination.
The Sejm rejected Olszewski's resignation, sensing that no other nominee was likely to form a more viable government at that time. The prime minister survived mainly because of unexpected support from a party outside the coalition, the Polish Peasant Party, which won several key ministerial appointments in the political bargain. Nevertheless, dissension within the coalition continued to weaken and isolate the prime minister at the same time that the two largest parties in the Sejm--Mazowiecki's Democratic Union and the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, heir to the PZPR--openly opposed the government.
Although condemning the previous two governments for the deep recession and budget crisis, Olszewski had very little room to maneuver and continued the austerity policies initiated by those governments. Far from easing the pain of economic transition, Olszewski was forced to impose steep energy and transportation price increases. Government spending could not be increased without jeopardizing crucial credit arrangements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A critical vote in the Sejm in March 1992 rejected the government's economic program outline and revealed the untenable position of the prime minister. The program, constructed by the head of the Office of Central Planning, Jerzy Eysymontt, called for continued sacrifice, reduced government spending, and higher prices for traditionally subsidized goods and services. This program clearly conflicted with the government's promises for a rapid breakthrough and a reversal of Balcerowicz's austerity policies.
Efforts to bring the major opposition parties into the governing coalition began in 1992, but preliminary talks produced nothing and alienated coalition members who had not been consulted in advance. Some members objected to all compromises with the Liberal-Democratic Congress and the Democratic Union. One such member was the Christian National Union, a strong supporter of Olszewski, which dominated his cabinet and advanced a Roman Catholic agenda incompatible with the secular views of the two opposition parties. The most problematic issue upon which the parties disagreed was the state's position on abortion.
The Sejm's rejection of his economic program convinced Olszewski to push harder for expansion of his coalition. In the days following the vote, Olszewski personally offered economic compromise to Mazowiecki in exchange for support by the Democratic Union. Mazowiecki insisted on a dominant role in economic policy and inclusion of his allied parties in a restructured government. Several weeks of amicable negotiations failed to enlarge Olszewski's coalition.
Even as he sought potential coalition partners and proposed economic compromises, Olszewski alienated the opposition and, most importantly, President Walesa, by his partisan leadership style and personnel policies at all levels of administration. Two members of Olszewski's cabinet defied presidential prerogatives in highly publicized, politically destabilizing incidents. First, Minister of National Defense Jan Parys enraged Walesa by failing to consult him in making key personnel decisions, a failure that led to dismissal of Parys for making public accusations that members of the president's circle planned a coup. Then the circulation of an unsubstantiated list of sixtytwo current and former government officials alleged to have collaborated with the communist secret police caused a major upheaval. Walesa charged that the list threatened the stability of the state and required the dismissal of the Olszewski government. The Sejm then voted Olszewski out of office in June 1992 by the substantial margin of 273 to 119 votes.
Olszewski and his cabinet did not leave office quietly. The outgoing government launched unprecedented personal attacks on Walesa, accusing him of presiding over the recommunization of Poland. Walesa replied that Olszewski had issued orders to place on alert security forces in Warsaw, including the presidential guard, as a prelude to a coup d'état.
|Country Studies main page | Poland Country Studies main page|