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Walesa Calls Referendum Vote ‘Cold Shower’ for Government

December 2, 1987

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The Communist Party’s ruling Politburo said Tuesday the government’s political and economic reform plans would be modified because a referendum on the program failed to win approval.

Solidarity founder Lech Walesa said the voters gave the government a ″cold shower″ in Sunday’s balloting and showed their impatience by rejecting Poland’s first referendum under communist rule.

He also said public reaction could turn ″hot″ unless the government works with its opponents to solve the nation’s problems.

At its regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting, the Politburo said it was necessary to soften the reforms.

A Politburo communique carried by the official PAP news agency said, ″The Politburo stresses the unchanged will of the party to make bold changes.″

But it said the referendum results ″impose″ on the government and Parliament ″the duty of appropriate modification of the program of reform activities, especially in the economic sphere and in particular the methods of their realization.″

The communique did not say what changes were being considered, but it was expected authorities would cut the steep price hikes that had been planned for next year and which provoked voter anger.

The constitution says that to be binding, a referendum must be approved by a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots.

Sunday’s vote represented an unprecedented electoral setback for a Soviet- bloc government. Poland has been under Communist rule since the end of World War II.

Several leaders of Solidarity urged authorities to negotiate with the outlawed labor movement. They contended the referendum results showed public support for reforms but lack of confidence in the government.

In a telephone interview, Walesa said: ″Perhaps after this cold shower it received after the referendum, the government will wake up and meet ... society halfway. If it does not do it, the next shower is going to be hot. May this never happen.″

″I once again repeat my readiness to ... help in solving the Polish problems,″ Walesa said from his apartment in the Baltic port of Gdansk.

″There is no other way for Poland than creating a possibility for all groups to work for the country’s good. ... The fact that we (Solidarity) ignored the referendum does not mean that we ignore the reforms. ... We accept them all, but say they are too little.″

He said he considers it a ″victory″ that authorities released unfavorable voting results, but added that ″Poland is losing″ as long as the government and opposition ″spit in each other’s faces.″

Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski’s government has refused to negotiate with Solidarity leaders.

Authorities originally said prices would rise an average 40 percent next year if voters approved the reforms.

Janusz Onyszkiewicz, national spokesman for Solidarity, called the referendum result ″a success ... desperately needed″ by the population.

Onyszkiewicz said it gave ″a shot in the arm″ to supporters of Solidarity, which was born in August 1980 during labor turmoil over food price increases, suppressed with the declaration of martial law in December 1981 and later outlawed.

″I would think the authorities would take the lesson and realize the only way to implement economic reforms sucessfully is to begin to talk with the society ... including independent Catholic circles and ... important people from Solidarity,″ he said in a telephone interview.

About two-thirds of those voting endorsed the government position, but a majority of all 26 million eligible voters was needed to make the referendum results binding. Most Poles stayed home, voted against the government or cast invalid ballots.

Onyszkiewicz said referendum results should not be interpreted as a vote against economic and political reforms but as ″a rejection of confidence in the government.″ Solidarity had urged people to boycott the vote.

The influential Roman Catholic church remained silent. ″The referendum is not an affair for the church but for the state,″ said the Rev. Henryk Brunka, deputy spokesman for the episcopate in Warsaw.

Final figures showed that 67.3 percent of eligible voters participated.

The ″yes″ vote for proposed economic reforms was 44.2 percent of the entire electorate and for the government’s political reforms 46.3 percent.

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