Polish campaign for presidency a clash of styles

November 04, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- The race for the Polish presidency began in earnest last week with neither commanding contenders nor coherent programs, neither political know-how nor splashy spending.

But the campaign already is a contest of flamboyance and pragmatism, charisma and competence, suspected authoritarianism and avowed democracy.

The two sides of Poland's new political coin are both represented in this first free postwar presidential election by luminaries of the Solidarity labor union, vanguard of the popular uprisings that finally swept Communists from power throughout the Soviet bloc last year.

So the elections also formalize the disintegration of Solidarity into rival political camps.

One is led by the charismatic, populist union leader, Lech Walesa, 47, candidate of the center-right Centrist Alliance, with its constituency of workers unhappy over falling living standards and the threats posed by a free market.

The other camp is that of the Solidarity intellectuals of the Citizens' Movement for Democratic Action, known by its Polish acronym ROAD, and the Democratic Right. Their candidate is Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, 63, whom not even his campaign manager could call charismatic, and their constituency is among the urban intelligentsia and what Mr. Walesa likes to call "eggheads."

Neither the legendary Mr. Walesa, shipyard electrician turned Nobel Peace Prize winner, nor the respected Mr. Mazowiecki, Poland's first Roman Catholic prime minister in more than a half-century, commands the 50 percent support necessary to win office in the first round of balloting Nov. 25. A runoff would be held Dec. 9.

In a poll ordered by the government newspaper Rzeczpospolita last week, 33.8 percent of respondents supported Mr. Walesa, and 33.2 percent backed Mr. Mazowiecki. Marginal candidates won negligible support: Peasants' Party leader Roman Bartoszcze, 6.6 percent; Polish-Canadian millionaire Stan Tyminski, 3.7 percent; former Communist Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, 3.3 percent; and veteran anti-Soviet activist Leszek Molczulski, 2.9 percent.

No one seems to have a program, partly, perhaps, because the presidency itself has yet to be defined in a new constitution expected next year.

But Mr. Walesa, who has not spared criticism of the government and has implied that he would take an authoritative line in "hurrying" Poland's drive toward capitalism, has left no one in doubt as to his style.

"My model is not that of cocktails and dinners but of the 'Flying Dutchman,' traveling through the country, interfering everywhere as necessary," he has said. "There will be even too much Walesa; that's why so many are afraid."

Candidates are crisscrossing the country in an unaccustomed burst of American-style electioneering. There are mishaps. Mr. Mazowiecki made a whistle-stop tour of the western region of Wielkopolska but was unable to speak to well-wishers gathered to greet him. "What a pity we didn't think of bringing a megaphone," campaign manager Henryk Wozniakowski was reported as saying.

After considerable wrangling, all six candidates got free, equal television time for short electoral spots light on substance but steeped in traditional Polish symbolism.

Mr. Walesa, accused by opponents of being both an autocrat and an ignoramus, looked appropriately presidential in a three-piece suit and august extra poundage. Joan Baez sang messianic messages in English in the background.

Mr. Mazowiecki began the TV campaign by stiffly hugging his grandchildren to humanize his dry, lusterless image.

Mr. Cimoszewicz of the Social Democrats, formerly the Communists, also was filmed wandering through a cemetery at dusk. His chances, obviously, are nil. The only reason for holding the election is that President Wojciech Jaruzelski is a former Communist, and not even his low profile and respect for the democratic process could persuade Poles to forget his past.

Other echoes of the past have surfaced. Opponents accuse the Walesa camp of anti-Semitism, and some Walesa supporters describe Mr. Mazowiecki's adherents as akin to Jewish Bolsheviks.

Solidarity intellectual and editor Adam Michnik, a Mazowiecki supporter, criticized Mr. Walesa in a controversial article for the daily Gazeta Wyborcza:

"Lech Walesa was never either populist or anti-Semitic. But Walesa says, 'I am a pure Pole, born here.' It appears then that there are some 'impure' Poles, born elsewhere."

Mr. Walesa's Warsaw campaign manager, Tomek Stankiewicz, denies that Mr. Walesa is an anti-Semite.

To prove it, he points out that Mr. Walesa appointed Mr. Mazowiecki as prime minister. The premier is known to be a devout Catholic, but Mr. Stankiewicz says he is of Jewish origin.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.