Surge by Canadian presidential candidate spreads panic in Polish politics

November 22, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- A public opinion survey showing that a mysterious Canadian of Polish origin has outstripped Poland's prime minister in the race for the Polish presidency sent waves of panic through political circles here yesterday.

The poll, taken last weekend by the government organization CBOS, showed that Solidarity leader Lech Walesa still led the field of six candidates. But his lead, once commanding, had been whittled down to a rating of only 27 percent, far short of the 50 percent needed to win outright Sunday and avoid a second round of voting Dec. 9.

The revelation, however, concerned second place, previously occupied by Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. The 1,490 random respondents in the CBOS poll demoted Mr. Mazowiecki to third place (17 percent) behind Polish-Canadian Stan Tyminski, a millionaire with the citizenship of and business interests in Canada, Poland and Peru.

Mr. Tyminski, the leader of the tiny Libertarian Party of Canada, was completely unknown in Poland until two months ago. He won an approval rating of 20 percent.

"Is Poland going to be the laughingstock of the world?" the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which supports Mr. Mazowiecki, headlined. "If Tyminski gets to the second round," one commentator, Ernest Skalski, wrote angrily, "Poland will cease to be treated as a serious country."

Alarm prompted a spate of statements.

Piotr Novina-Konopka, minister of state at the presidency of the republic, hastily called a news conference to announce his resignation and his intention, "as a private person," to vote for Mr. Mazowiecki.

Asked whether the Canadian's showing at the polls had prompted his move, he replied, "The Tyminski affair was the last straw which made me decide. Something is wrong with this campaign. The elections are losing touch with reality."

Mr. Walesa appeared on the prime-time television newscast to declare that the Tyminski surge "insults Polish reality."

Mr. Mazowiecki's press spokesman, Henryk Wozniakowski, called the Tyminski phenomenon "an escape from reality." And campaign manager Aleksander Hall claimed that the outsider's burst of popularity would burn out after a gaffe at a student rally in the southern resort town of Zakopane last weekend.

At the rally, Mr. Tyminski called the prime minister "a traitor to the nation." Mr. Mazowiecki, Mr. Tyminski said, was selling pieces of Poland to foreigners at dirt-cheap prices. He was unable to prove the charge, and Warsaw's prosecutor-general has ordered local offices to investigate.

In a capital buzzing with speculative comment, Mr. Tyminski has been described publicly, though completely without proof, as anything from a psychiatric misfit to a drug baron. "This unknown, indeed suspicious fellow, threatens two people with a long record of service to the country," Mr. Skalski wrote.

He is, however, perpetuating an old Polish tradition.

"Poles like foreigners, they give special status to foreigners," said California's Jan Curry, visiting Fulbright professor at Warsaw University. "They even have a special designation for overseas Poles, the Polonia.

"And what's more," Dr. Curry added, "Poland has a long history of electing a foreign king."

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