Walesa favored to win acrimonious Polish election

December 09, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- Poles vote today in the second round of presidential elections after a bitter campaign that revealed the weakness and division of the ruling Solidarity labor movement.

Today's candidates for the as-yet undefined office of head of state were the top vote-getters Nov. 25: Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, the favorite, and emigre Stanislaw Tyminski, a Polish-Canadian-Peruvian who outpolled Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and sent Solidarity into a state of shock.

Both Mr. Walesa and Mr. Tyminski are populists. They have attracted essentially the same kind of support from those disenchanted with the austerity policies associated with their country's move toward capitalism.

It is in the packaging of the populism that the candidates differ, as the last television commercials before the close of the campaign showed.

Mr. Walesa pulled out all the traditional stops of the 1980s, the Solidarity decade. There was the lean shipyard electrician who jumped a fence into history in 1980 and the portly professional politician who by 1989 was leading the Solidarity opposition in ground-breaking round-table talks with the Communist authorities.

There was martial law and the Nobel Peace Prize and the congressional speech along the way. There was the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the Polish pope. There was the martyred Solidarity priest, the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, and the tearful crowds with their V-for-victory signs. There was patriotism and Catholicism and anti-communism, all in images that stirred the world.

Mr. Tyminski, however, was pure, prosperous Western suburbia. He was shown directing his Transduction computer business in Toronto. He was shown on his strawberry farm.

He was shown in his nice, clean, appliance-studded Western kitchen, in his comfortable living room. He was shown hugging his three young children and his Peruvian wife, Graciela. It was the casual comfort of the capitalist West, and the message was: You can have this, too.

Today will probably show that stirring deeds still appeal to Poles more than the promise of normal, dull prosperity. The state-run television network's OBOP public opinion polling organization xTC Thursday put Mr. Walesa's chances against Mr. Tyminski at 73 to 16, widening the first-round gap of 40 to 23.

A low turnout is expected to favor Mr. Tyminski, but probably not enough to close the 57-point gap.

With both candidates competing for the same constituency, the campaign inevitably got personal -- and dirty. Mr. Walesa presented Mr. Tyminski as an unstable "nobody" who had become a shady front for communist colonels plotting a comeback. Mr. Tyminski termed Mr. Walesa a "terrorist and assassin."

But while Mr. Tyminski had to shout his charges, Mr. Walesa had the state machine from which to broadcast his accusations to the electorate.

"Tyminski's slide is a result of this campaign during the last two weeks to demolish him," said Adam Wojciechowski of Warsaw.

Mr. Wojciechowski belongs to a small human rights splinter group that urged its adherents to vote against both candidates.

Certainly the campaign, strongly marked by "the political gutter," as the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza put it, was tough and dirty, steeped in personal innuendo and political intolerance.

Mr. Walesa's supporters continually disrupted Mr. Tyminski's campaign rallies, and Solidarity's tame state press and state television unabashedly endorsed the Solidarity leader. Mr. Walesa himself went so far as to promise civil war if Mr. Tyminski won.

For his part, Mr. Tyminski threatened the union leader with the publication of embarrassing private revelations and even locked up a Solidarity journalist in an attempt to confiscate his tapes of a Tyminski campaign meeting.

Political tempers ran high in the face of the unexpected threat to Solidarity's monopoly on power. "[At a Tyminski rally] people spat on each other," lamented Gazeta Wyborcza.

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