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Poles march to forefront of reform, but take step back

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The Polish Communist Party's leader will be elected by direct, secret vote from the floor of the congress. That is the striking element in new and essentially more democratic party election procedures adopted after several hours of tough debate in closed session at the Polish Communist Party's special congress here.

The new procedures do not go as far as the radical reformers had hoped and expected.

But they are without precedent in Russia's communist bloc, or for orthodox communist parties anywhere for the matter.

They represent major departures from the general Soviet-East European pattern of elections to party bodies at all levels on the basis of candidates handpicked by the top leadership.

And they probably represent the limit to which the Poles can go -- at least at this juncture -- consistent with their undertakings to their Soviet ally to restore the authority and the image of their badly shaken party.

Even these decisions were not reached without a struggle revealing the deep divisions remaining between the Polish rank and file and the hard-line elements in the present party Politburo and Central Committee.

The struggle began at the start of the congress Tuesday, when the more ardent reform hopes of an immediate election of the party's first secretary ran into opposition.

It meant, of course, the reelection of the present party leader, Stanislaw Kania. It had in fact been confidently predicted that the liberals' electoral proposals would be almost unanimously adopted and that Mr. Kania would at once be returned with a vote assuring him a commanding position for the rest of the congress. It proved a miscalculation.

Not only was there predictable opposition from the hard-liners still resisting over-radical reform (with further backing from Moscow's representative at the congress.)


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