Ideology outweighs affluence in Poland Economy is on the move, but ruling ex-Communists may not benefit in voting

September 21, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WARSAW, Poland -- The new abundance in Poland is evident everywhere in the supermarket parking lot.

Smoked salmon and delicate pastries are among the goodies Kristina Ostap, a 50-year-old dentist, tosses onto the back seat of her car.

All around, shopping carts are being wheeled out of the Geant supermarket -- part of a French chain -- stuffed with fresh fish and meat, vegetables and brand-name mineral water.

Poland will hold parliamentary elections today, and as middle-class shoppers in the Warsaw suburb of Ursynow load their groceries for the weekend, they find it hard to deny the almost giddy rise in their living standards during the past four years under a government of former Communists.

Nevertheless, surprisingly few of them will vote for the Democratic Left Alliance, as the former Communists call themselves, even though the alliance promises an even rosier future.

The fault lines in the election, which many consider a landmark, will be ideological, according to politicians, pollsters and ordinary voters. Whether people were or were not Communists is a question that continues to haunt the Poles eight years after the collapse of the Berlin wall.

And because the question still dominates the political environment, the former Communists, despite the advantage of a popular and youthful president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, are unlikely to command much more than one-quarter of the vote, according to recent polls.

A right-of-center populist coalition, grouped around the anti-Communist Solidarity trade-union movement now known as Solidarity Election Action, is also likely to get about one-quarter of the vote.

This will probably leave as kingmaker Leszek Balcerowicz, the ascetic-looking architect of Poland's shock-therapy economic reforms and now the leader of the centrist free-market party, Freedom Union.

Balcerowicz is likely to be courted by both major parties as they struggle after today's vote to form a government.

Balcerowicz's program, calling for faster privatization and completion of the economic reforms he started, is actually closer to that of the former Communists than to that of Solidarity, which is not eager to complete the reform program it began five years ago.

Poland's foreign investors, many of them big U.S. companies, say they hope that the former Communists, whom they see as more progressive on the economy, come in ahead of Solidarity.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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