Prime minister resigns after loss in Polish vote

November 27, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki resigned last night after his stunning defeat in Sunday's presidential elections not only by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa but also by an unknown Polish-Canadian emigre, Stan Tyminski.

Mr. Mazowiecki said that his Solidarity government had relied on the support and understanding of the population during a period of necessary but "extremely painful" reforms.

"For several months I believed that that understanding existed," he said. "Yesterday's election results show that the situation has changed."

Mr. Mazowiecki ran a distant third in Sunday's first free, popular elections for a Polish head of state. He won only 18 percent, compared with Mr. Walesa's 40 percent and Mr. Tyminski's 23 percent.

Mr. Walesa and Mr. Tyminski will face each other in a runoff Dec. 9.

Mr. Mazowiecki said his Cabinet would remain in office to carry out day-to-day business until a new president could appoint his successor.

Mr. Mazowiecki appeared to launch a broadside against Mr. Walesa, whose presidential ambitions are widely believed responsible for the timing of elections that many would have preferred to postpone. The prime minister said that his policies had been questioned and that both he and his government had come under "heavy, often demagogic attacks."

"But society has chosen," he said. "I have therefore submitted the government's resignation."

Mr. Mazowiecki, a veteran Solidarity adviser, was appointed premier by Mr. Walesa in September 1989, following June parliamentary elections in which Solidarity candidates swept to an overwhelming victory.

He agreed to run for president when Solidarity intellectuals, concerned about what they considered Mr. Walesa's increasingly autocratic behavior, decided on a candidate to oppose the charismatic union leader.

Despite Mr. Mazowiecki's low-key style and the handicap of being in charge at a time of economic crisis, his defeat by an unknown outsider stunned and embarrassed many Poles. The Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which had backed Mr. Mazowiecki, called it "this shameful fragment of our political history" and said it would "weigh on us for a long time."

U.S. political scientist Jane Curry agreed. "Westerners assumed that loyalty to Solidarity would make Poles put up with hard times," she said. "Now people will be more inclined to worry about Poland's stability."

Mr. Tyminski's astonishing showing at least gets Mr. Walesa off the hook of his own ebullience. The impulsive Solidarity leader at one time swore he would drop out of the contest if not elected in the first round. Now he is hesitating. "I wouldn't like to run, but one has to think of what is good for Poland," he said yesterday.

Mr. Tyminski, who looked as shocked as anyone Sunday night, yesterday radiated confidence. "I am not afraid of Walesa," he told reporters who besieged his headquarters. He said he would conduct a "calm and civilized campaign" and added: "I will win these elections."

Most don't agree, but Ms. Curry saw a "slight chance" if the prime minister's supporters continue to attack Mr. Walesa as they have in the last 24 hours.

The presidential elections marked a drastic change for Poland and a dramatic defeat for Solidarity.

Nearly 40 percent of the electorate failed to show, and of the 60 percent who voted, almost one-third voted against Solidarity (Mr. Tyminski's 23 percent and former Communist Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's 9.2 percent).

"A year ago, anyone with remote ties to Solidarity was guaranteed a seat," Ms. Curry said. "This is a major transformation."

Poles are to all accounts turned off by current politics. The government newspaper Rzeczpospolita warned of "social disorientation" and said that both the authorities and the major candidates had neglected the Poland that voted for Mr. Tyminski -- the countryside, small towns and young people.

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