Poles may not have much practice in democracy but they know about negative campaigning. It was a dismal campaign on all sides that saw the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and charismatic Solidarity union founder, Lech Walesa, win a commanding lead going into the Dec. 9 run-off.
The principal loser, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, deserved better from Poles. He has thoughtfully tried to translate slogans into reforms. He is paying the price of resentments by people who lost their guaranteed place, however inadequate, in the Communist state. This former victim of Communist tyranny may even have been victim of the anti-Communist vote.
The candidate who scored a thrilling upset to leap into the run-off against Mr. Walesa, at the expense of Mr. Mazowiecki, is a 42-year-old expatriate who lived abroad for 21 years and only recently moved back. Stanislaw Tyminski was no part of the extraordinary national experience that brought Poland to this election. He has no known qualifications. Apparently many Poles became convinced that because Mr. Tyminski made himself rich in business in Canada, he knows how to make Poland prosperous. He has never said how.
Mr. Walesa is the favorite to win the presidency that is not so powerful now but may be empowered next year after parliamentary elections. He is a charismatic hero of the struggle against communism. But his victory was won at the cost of a split between the workers who believe in him and the intellectuals who trusted Mr. Mazowiecki, and he himself conjured up the ghosts of group hatreds.
Until now, Mr. Walesa had the wit to stay out of government so that whatever happened was not his fault but could be blamed on the outgoing president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and on Mr. Mazowiecki, the prime minister foisted by Mr. Walesa on Mr. Jaruzelski. The intelligentsia supporting Mr. Mazowiecki, who campaigned so ineptly, are rallying to Mr. Walesa only because they find Mr. Tyminski unthinkable.
But if Mr. Walesa wins, he will be stuck with the awesome responsibilities of Poland. And he will be left without a Mazowiecki to do what Mr. Walesa thinks needs doing. To his critics, Mr. Walesa displayed an authoritarian personality during this campaign. Poland has had enough of that. If he wins the run-off, Mr. Walesa must govern not only Poland, but himself.