May 31, 2004 — By Adam Jasser
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling leftists acknowledged on Monday they faced an uphill struggle to avert early elections after parliament voted to approve a report linking them to a corruption scandal.
Poland has been locked in political crisis for months as the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lost its majority in parliament and its public opinion poll ratings plunged after of a wave of sleaze scandals.
On Friday, opposition parties joined forces to approve a parliamentary report which blamed former SLD prime minister Leszek Miller, who resigned earlier this month, and leftist President Aleksander Kwasniewski for trying to hush up a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal to protect officials.
Miller, who has denied the charges, said the vote showed how hard it was going to be to win approval for his successor, economist Marek Belka, in a confidence vote.
"It's plain to see how slim the support for Belka's government will be," Miller told public radio. "If the atmosphere from Friday was to be repeated in other votes in parliament, early elections should be considered."
Kwasniewski who insists Belka should stay at the helm to steer Poland through its crucial first months of European Union membership, said on Monday he would reappoint him on June 11.
He told a news conference he did not expect the confidence vote to take place before a crucial EU summit on June 17-18, which aims to wrap up work on the bloc's constitution.
The SLD must find some additional 40 votes in the 460-seat lower house of parliament to secure a majority and win the confidence vote.
If Belka fails in what will be his second attempt to get parliament's approval, early elections must be held in August.
A group of around 30 deputies who broke ranks with the SLD two months ago is ready to back Belka if the SLD agrees to hold elections in October, rather than next year. He can also count on the votes of some 17 independents.
Belka tried to put a brave face on the SLD's defeat on Friday, telling a news conference: "I don't believe there will be a large impact on what is happening in the Sejm (lower house of parliament) on my mission to form a government."
Friday's vote followed the conviction last month of film producer Lew Rywin for soliciting a $17.5-million bribe from a Polish daily in return for favorable changes to media laws.
In the subsequent investigations, the names of several senior SLD officials involved in the drafting of new media laws surfaced. Some were close associates of Miller and Kwasniewski, who was SLD leader before becoming president in 1995.
A court ruled in April it could not find conclusive evidence of the officials' involvement.
But on Friday, the opposition voted through a version of a report by a special parliamentary committee investigating the case that accused Kwasniewski and Miller of failing to take action even though they were aware of the scam.
Kwasniewski denied any involvement in the scandal and dismissed Friday's vote and opposition calls for his impeachment that followed over the weekend as a purely political attack.
(Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa, Ewa Krukowska and Nathaniel Espino) Link