Belka offers hope in Poland after disappointment with outgoing PM

02-04-2004

A new Polish Prime Minister, independent economist Marek Belka, has been designated following the resignation of unpopular left-wing politician Leszek Miller, who will officially leave office on May 2, the day after Poland's accession to the European Union. Miller's cabinet was commonly blamed for sluggish economic reforms and corruption scandals.

Leszek Miller and Marek Belka, photo: CTKLeszek Miller and Marek Belka, photo: CTK The outgoing cabinet of Prime Minister Leszek Miller was commonly described as the least popular since Poland became democratic in 1989. The latest opinion polls only gave 9 per cent of popular support. By contrast, the man picked by president Kwasniewski to replace him, the acclaimed economist Marek Belka, is seen by observers as a politician of great promise. He has already served twice as Poland's finance minister and was praised across the board for his commitment to sound economics, which the country is badly in need of, considering the sorry state of public finances. Belka served as the chief economic aide in the US-led administration of Iraq, where Poland is administering one of the stabilization zones. Marek Belka was still in Iraq when the nomination was announced.

Interviewed over a satellite phone, he sounded mildly optimistic about the success, aware that Poland was in the midst of a profound crisis. Belka does have a tough job cut out for him. He needs to win the support of the entire left wing, which recently experienced a split into two parties, and ensure the backing of parties that earlier pulled out of the coalition or gave it conditional support. Then Belka will face the difficult task of implementing what is a long overdue austerity programme, vital to prevent the economy from plunging into chaos. Although there has long been talk about necessary belt-tightening, there is little enthusiasm for such measures in a nation with unemployment running at over twenty per cent. Observers say that even the imminent EU accession can do little to lift the sense of gloom that currently prevails in Polish society.

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