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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK
Poisoned chalice for Poland's left?
SLD supporters
SLD jubilance could be short-lived
By BBC Central Europe correspondent Ray Furlong in Warsaw

The aroma of chicken and sausages, roasting on the barbecue, was mingling with the scent of victory even before the first exit polls came out.

This was the central Warsaw headquarters of the Democratic Left Party (SLD), and the expectant mood was not to be disappointed.

Solidarity seems now to be finished as a political force

The SLD seems to have made electoral history in Poland, gaining around 45% of the vote and probably an absolute majority in Parliament.

It should now be able to form the first one-party government in the country since the fall of communism.

Flushed with victory, SLD leader Leszek Miller told cheering supporters: ''This is the scale of our success and proof that we are going along the right road, that from year to year we are capable of gathering ever more support for our ideals and our values.''

Economic woes

He also said he was ready to form a new government within several days. But that is when the problems will start.

Leszek Miller
Leszek Miller: 'On the right road'
Poland is facing a budget crisis, with the deficit in public finances forecast at reaching 11% of GDP. Plugging that hole will require tough measures.

That could threaten the monolithic unity which has, until now, been the SLD's strength.

The candidate for finance minister, Marek Belka, has been greeted by markets as a reform-minded liberal.

But the more traditional members in the former communist ranks may be less inclined to his policies.

Opposition to Europe

Then there is the European Union.

The elections have brought a resounding defeat for the ruling Solidarity bloc, which gained less than 5% of the vote and lost all its seats in Parliament.

It seems now to be finished as a political force.

In its place, parties previously limited to the radical fringe of Polish politics have made strong gains in Parliament. These are critical of, and even completely opposed to joining the EU - one of the SLD's main aims.

The rural Self Defence party, led by Andrzej Lepper, is celebrating most after gaining around 12% of the vote.

Its members were seen waltzing the night away, the men all wearing the party's trademark red-and-white ties.

In the past Mr Lepper has staged roadblocks to protest against government policies, and he has pledged to push his anti-EU program to the full.

Then there is the League of Polish Families, which seems to have scraped into parliament with around 6% support.

One elderly man I spoke to at a polling station told me he had voted for the League to stop Poland being "sold to the European Union".

As the SLD celebrates its stunning election victory, its leaders may find they have won a poisoned chalice.

The BBC's Raymond Furlong in Warsaw
"Solidarity has been battered by infighting and corruption scandals"
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Business
Poland's economic challenge
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Prodi urges Polish reforms
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Poland
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