WARSAW -- Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the controversial Communist reformer who once imposed martial law and banned the Solidarity labor union, in effect resigned yesterday as president of Poland.
In a letter to the speaker of the Sejm, the Polish parliament, the 67-year-old soldier-turned-politician proposed that parliament shorten his term of office, due to expire in 1995.
Sejm Speaker Mikolaj Kozakiewicz said he was treating the letter as a resignation. "He has just left the date up to parliament," he said.
Tomorrow parliament begins a debate on amendment of the constitution and a new law to allow elections for the president. Polling is expected to take place in November or December. Mr. Kozakiewicz said a detailed decision on what to do was not expected for three weeks.
General Jaruzelski was narrowly elected in July 1989 by the combined Sejm and Senate in accordance with round-table agreements between the then-Communist government and the Solidarity-led opposition. His presidency was to have been a guarantee to Moscow of Poland's stability within the Soviet bloc.
With the fall of Communist governments across Eastern Europe, such a role became anachronistic. As Solidarity swept to power in Poland, extremist anti-Communist groups such as the Confederation for an Independent Poland, which picketed the gates of the presidential palace yesterday, demanded General Jaruzelski's ouster.
Their demands were echoed by various Solidarity factions, in particular, the Centrist Alliance that supports Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's presidential ambitions.
General Jaruzelski's letter acknowledged the siege. An official statement published by the PAP news agency said he was "concerned about preventing unnecessary social emotions and ready to promote democracy in the state system."
The beleaguered president had offered to resign Tuesday during a meeting of political leaders called by Poland's Roman Catholic primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp.
Mr. Kozakiewicz, who was present at the Tuesday meeting, said that General Jaruzelski had added to his letter a request to remain in office until the newly elected president took over. "He wants to hand over power with his presidency still recognized as valid and legal," the speaker said.
So far Mr. Walesa is the only announced candidate. But alarmed Solidarity intellectuals, who consider the charismatic but authoritarian Mr. Walesa ill-equipped for Poland's highest office, have been pressing Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki to run. Mr. Mazowiecki has so far refused to commit himself.
And so the door closes on General Jaruzelski, one of the most controversial figures of modern Polish history. A man without choices, buffeted, like many Poles, by the winds of history, he knew war, deprivation and deportation to Siberia.
He has always said he imposed martial law because the alternatives were worse -- and current memoirs suggest that Leonid I. Brezhnev's Soviet Union forced his hand under threat of an invasion.
Even in leaving the presidency yesterday he had no real choice, for the alternative to going gracefully was potential parliamentary dismissal.