Mazowiecki to challenge Walesa in Polish election

October 05, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki announced yesterday that he would run against Solidarity leader Lech Walesa for the presidency of the Polish republic.

"After much thought and after weighing all considerations, I have decided to allow my candidacy to be put forward," he said.

His decision pits the 63-year-old Solidarity adviser-turned-premier against Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and possibly a third candidate, in the Nov. 25 election.

Former Communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was elected president last year in a compromise between the Solidarity labor union and the then-ruling Communist Party. His presidency was meant to reassure Moscow of Poland's stability within the Warsaw Pact. But with the fall of Communist governments throughout the Soviet bloc, he became an anachronism. In what was in effect an abdication, he asked Parliament last month to abbreviate his six-year term of office and call free popular elections for his successor.

Mr. Mazowiecki's decision comes after weeks of speculation as to whether the slow-spoken, stubborn Roman Catholic prime minister would oppose the charismatic union leader who a year ago designated him as the head of Poland's first post-Communist government.

Mr. Mazowiecki, speaking at the beginning of the evening television newscast, said that his decision had been "personally difficult" for him.

Relations have been strained for some time between the populist Mr. Walesa, now the voice of public discontent with the government's austerity policies, and the beleaguered prime minister, phlegmatically resistant to demands both for purges of former leaders and for faster moves toward free-market policies.

Mr. Mazowiecki alluded to criticism in his declaratory statement last night. He was running, he said, because he was "convinced that we need to do things better, faster, but we need to continue on this road and on no other road."

The prime minister, a lawyer and journalist by trade, has the backing of Solidarity intellectuals, mainly grouped in the Citizens' Movement for Democratic Action, known by its Polish acronym, ROAD. Much of the urban intelligentsia, admittedly a small group, supports him, partly out of fear that Mr. Walesa, if elected, could become yet another authoritarian ruler.

Mr. Walesa has the support of the Solidarity leadership, although it is not unanimous, and of much of Solidarity's disgruntled rank-and-file. The union's national executive commission voted 67-10 Wednesday to endorse his candidacy, counting on wide support from the less educated in both industrial and rural areas.

Opinion polls have given Mr. Mazowiecki a slight edge. But most observers expect Mr. Walesa's populist approach to win.

"People are worried that he might win," a diplomat commented. "But I am rather more worried that he might not. What happens to a Walesa without any official role? He becomes a spoiler."

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