WARSAW, Poland -- Lech Walesa, the charismatic shipyard electrician who led the Solidarity labor union in its 10-year struggle to oust the Communists from power here, announced yesterday his candidacy for the presidency of Poland.
"It is the fulfillment of a pledge I made [at the time of Solidarity's birth] in August 1980," Mr. Walesa said in a statement transmitted on prime-time television from the Solidarity headquarters in Gdansk.
The announcement came on the eve of a mini-round table conference of all Poland's major political forces. Today's meeting, called by the Roman Catholic primate of Poland, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, had been expected to try to brake the rise to supreme power of a man who has said frankly that he intends to rule by decree.
"Many Solidarity people see Walesa as a troublesome hero who could be dangerous if he has too much authority," Speaker of Parliament Mikolaj Kozakiewicz commented a few days ago. "And although many priests and bishops support Walesa, the episcopate is not happy."
The prospect of a "strong" Walesa presidency has split the Solidarity movement down the middle.
The conservative Centrist Alliance, which claims support among workers and in Solidarity's birthplace of Gdansk, endorses Mr. Walesa and his calls for rapid acceleration of Poland's already painful shift to capitalism.
A center-left group known by its Polish acronym ROAD supports the government programs as they are and backs Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki as a presidential candidate. ROAD is composed chiefly of urban intellectuals and government figures. Another group, the Forum of the Democratic Right, also has come out for Mr. Mazowiecki.
The prime minister has not yet announced his candidacy, although he has not said he will not run.
Presidential elections could come as early as December.
The incumbent president, former Communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, has already announced his willingness to shorten his six-year term. General Jaruzelski took over the presidency in July 1989. His presence was designed to reassure Moscow of maverick Poland's stability within the Soviet bloc, a role rendered anachronistic by the subsequent ouster of Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe.
General Jaruzelski's spokesman said yesterday that Mr. Walesa's presidential bid "reflects the process of democratic change in Poland."