Poland's independent Solidarity trade union federation called today for free elections, challenging the Communist Party's monopoly on power here.
A resolution passed by Solidarity's first national congress in Gdansk said the present electoral system, under which Communists have held power since World War II, made it "impossible for the community to demonstrate its will." At present, all candidates for the legislature and provincial councils have to be approved by the Communist-dominated National Unity Front.
Under Solidarity's proposals, other social and political organizations would be allowed to nominate candidates, as would individual groups of citizens. There would be an unlimited number of candidates.
The call came on the final day of the first stage of the congress, which has now adjourned until Sept. 26. The closing session was also marked by a personal victory for Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who managed to push through his own plans for a strong central leadership.
In a final address, Walesa said the union leadership should be "fast, efficient, and a little dictatorial." At times of crisis, he said, decisions had to be taken quickly.
He added: "Let us hide our ambitions in our pockets. Now we have a chance to build the Poland that our fathers failed to build."
Solidarity's resolution on election procedures marked the first time that this highly sensitive issue has been publicly raised here--even though it has become a matter of considerable private debate. The next legislative elections are due in March 1984 but elections to regional people's councils are scheduled for early next year.
The Communist authorities had already been planning some changes in the electoral rules, including the possibility that some Solidarity-sponsored candidates might be included in the official list. But such a concession, which would still amount to rigged elections, is apparently unacceptable to the union.
Few Poles doubt that, in genuinely free elections, the Communist Party would be swept from power. Such a possibility, however, also raises the question of whether the Soviet Union would be prepared to sit back and watch.
The fact that national elections are not due for 2 1/2 years provides both sides with some breathing space. The Solidarity resolution also appears to leave some room for compromise. It does not preclude some kind of prior electoral deal.
The congress voted against altering the union's statutes so as to delete a recognition of the Communist Party's leading role in Poland. Instead it said that the nature of this role should be defined more closely, an apparent reference to earlier demands for workers' self-management that would in effect free the economy from party control.
Nevertheless, the course of the congress--and the militancy of some of the rank-and-file delegates--can hardly have provided much reassurance either to Poland's Communist leadership or to the Kremlin. Their concern has been reflected in official speeches and commentaries that have accused Solidarity of seeking to assume the role of a political party and to take over power.
Earlier the congress sent a message of support to independent trade unionists in Eastern Europe and called for a nationwide referendum for rival plans for workers' self-management. Solidarity officials have said that if the legislature does not agree to the referendum, it will stage one itself.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said the message to other unionists "displayed a dangerous failure to understand the basic interests of the nation (and) the balance of forces," Associated Press reported.
A referendum foretaste was provided at the country's largest steelworks, near the southern industrial city of Katowice, which today announced the results of a ballot on the plant's director. On the key question of whether or not he should be removed from office, 8,800 workers voted yes against 2,202 who voted no.
Some 3,500 workers, however, declined to take part in the vote--and a further 2,800 were not present at the plant when it was taken. For one reason or another, therefore, Solidarity did not muster an absolute majority of all workers at the plant.
The referendum was called following the director's decision to close a local Solidarity newsletter for the publication of cartoons said to insult Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. The Polish authorities described the voting as illegal and have refused to dismiss the director.
Differences between the two sides appeared to narrow slightly today when the management agreed to reopen the print shop which published the Solidarity bulletin. Solidarity officials said they would not insist on the director's immediate removal.
In the last Polish elections, in March 1980, official candidates were said to have received 99.52 percent of the vote and 98.87 percent of the electorate were reported to have participated. Under prior arrangements, the Communist Party was given 57 percent of the seats, while the allied Peasant and Democratic parties won 32 percent of the seats.
The remaining seats went to non-party candidates, including some Catholics and intellectuals--all approved by the National Unity Front. In post-war Poland, only one official candidate has ever failed to win the necessary 50 percent of the vote.
As a result of internal election procedures adopted by the Solidarity congress today, regional union leaders will have the right to compete for posts on the new national leadership. Failure to adopt this rule would have automatically disqualified Walesa, who is already chairman of Solidarity's Gdansk region, from running for the union's top office. As it is, he is expected to win easily.