WARSAW, JAN. 5 -- Poland's new prime minister, who is scrambling to avoid the giant shadow cast by President Lech Walesa, today named a government that he promised will build on the free-market achievements of its Solidarity predecessor.
Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, whose nomination by Walesa was approved easily on Friday by the Polish parliament, said he will adhere to the "directions and reforms that were so well begun" by the previous government.
In so doing, the 39-year-old economist and entrepreneur said he will retain three key ministers from the outgoing government. Most significant among the holdovers is Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, architect of the "shock therapy" program that has made Poland the leading free-market reformer in Eastern Europe.
Keeping Balcerowicz is a signal of continuity in economic policy. It is expected to reassure the Western governments upon which Poland depends for debt relief and investment support.
The two other key holdovers are Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski and Defense Minister Piotr Kolodziejczyk.
An important newcomer is the minister for ownership changes, Janusz Lewandowski. Like Bielecki, Lewandowski is an economist from Gdansk and a member of a small political organization that has argued for rapid privatization of the 7,000 state-owned enterprises that still account for 90 percent of Poland's economy.
Bielecki's naming of a new government has been somewhat upstaged by Walesa's intense political maneuvering. Two weeks after being sworn in as Poland's first popularly elected president, the former leader of the Solidarity labor movement appears determined to enlarge the powers of the presidency to include day-to-day policy-making.
In the past week, Walesa has presided over meetings with leaders of nearly every significant political interest group in the country. He has offered to include many of them in a "Political Council," a proposed policy-making body of Walesa's invention. According to a government newspaper, its powers would include "the administering of the country and ensuring smooth functioning of the economy."
"Great politics are being moved to Belvedere," said Walesa's press spokesman this week, in a reference to the presidential palace where the maneuvering is taking place. Walesa said his office has become "the place where we can have political discussions and quarrels."
When asked this week if Walesa might be appropriating to himself the powers normally reserved for a prime minister, Bielecki said the press spokesman's words were "an awkward slip."
Walesa's critics -- primarily the political supporters of former prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who finished third in the recent presidential election -- claim that the president's spokesman was telling, perhaps unintentionally, an ominous truth. They have complained that the proposed council could usurp Parliament's authority and derail Poland's fragile experiment in democracy.
In his speech before Parliament today, Bielecki insisted that free-market changes would continue but tried to reassure Poles that his government will be more concerned about the human cost of reform than was its predecessor.
"The changes so far have not brought full results. My desire is that those who have had hope do not lose it, and that those who have not dared hope will be able to hope," said Bielecki.
In the past year, shock therapy has slashed the buying power of Poles by one-third and put more than 1 million people out of work. The unemployment figure is expected to double or triple in the coming year.
Bielecki said his government will "react very quickly" in areas where unemployment becomes unacceptably high. He promised to speed the liquidation of state-subsidized industries that are losing money. Subsidies will be shifted from propping up failing factories to retraining the millions of Poles expected to lose their jobs when the factories close, he said.
Bielecki, who has ruled out any price guarantees to Polish farmers, said he will give them easier access to credit and shield them from cheap foreign imports.
While assuring foreign investors that they will be able to transfer profits out of Poland, Bielecki demanded that foreign countries ease the country's $45.2 billion debt.
Bielecki has said he will serve as prime minister only until parliamentary elections are held. They are expected sometime before the middle of the year.