Former Polish Communist faction forms coalition with peasants' party

Alliance joins blocs with opposing views on EU membership


Poland's former Communist Party, which came out ahead in national elections last month, formed a coalition with the Polish Peasants' Party yesterday. The move will allow the former Communists to form a government but could force them to pay homage to nationalistic and anti-European groups.

The coalition will give the former Communists, the Democratic Left Alliance, control over a solid majority in the Parliament. But it could also complicate governing because the peasants' party is more hostile to budget austerity and other reforms necessary for Poland to win membership in the European Union.

The Democratic Left Alliance, led by Leszek Miller, won 41 percent of the popular vote in the elections held Sept. 23. Although the party was the clear winner, it was still 15 seats short of a stand-alone majority in parliament.

Miller has vowed to push for spending cuts to reduce Poland's rapidly expanding budget deficit. The alliance has also made membership in the European Union a priority, thus continuing the direction pursued by the previous Solidarity-led coalition.

But the Peasants' Party is skeptical about both goals and is under pressure from more militant farm groups that lured many votes away from them.

The biggest gains in the elections were made by smaller and more nationalistic parties including Samoobrona, or Self-Defense, a militant farmers' party. The group has blockaded highways and has fiercely opposed membership in the European Union, contending that it will endanger the country's small farmers.

The Democratic Left Alliance governed in a coalition with the Peasants' Party from 1993 to 1997, but that government was shaky and was defeated by a center-right alliance led by Solidarity.

Miller, who will be prime minister, wanted to win enough votes to rule without a coalition partner. A few days before the election, he even suggested that his party would not participate in a government if it had to accept a coalition partner.

In announcing their coalition yesterday, the two parties gave few clues about the agreements they had reached on the more sensitive political issues. But they put pressure on Poland's central bank to relax its tough anti-inflationary monetary policies.

The central bank has pushed up interest rates to more than 14 percent, a move that has brought inflation down to about 5 percent but provoked an economic slowdown. Miller and other Democratic Left Alliance leaders have complained for months about the central bank's policies, and they implied yesterday that they would seek to curtail the bank's independence if monetary policy does not change.

"The coalition expects the Monetary Policy Council to cooperate more actively in achieving our goals and to take on more responsibility for the country's economic growth," the two parties declared yesterday in their agreement.

Jaroslaw Kalinowski, leader of the Peasants' Party, said parliament would make changes if the central bank did not. "The present course of monetary policy leads to nowhere and is responsible for today's terrible situation," Kalinowski was quoted as saying, adding that "parliament will be the judge."

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