WARSAW, Poland -- Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who was a political prisoner nine years ago, was elected president of Poland yesterday.
The Solidarity leader overwhelmingly beat his rival, Polish-Canadian businessman Stanislaw Tyminski, in a runoff after the first round of balloting two weeks ago.
Mr. Walesa won 75 percent of the vote, compared with Mr. Tyminski's 25 percent, and at last Poland got a freely elected president to succeed Communist Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
"I always said I would get between 70 and 80 percent," Mr. Walesa joked in his hometown of Gdansk late last evening. "Naturally, I was talking about the final result, not the preliminary round."
In November, he won a disappointing 40 percent, which did not qualify him for outright election.
But yesterday's victory gave little cause for jubilation. Only 53 percent of the electorate went to the polls, meaning that less than 40 percent of adult Poles chose Mr. Walesa. And many of those voted reluctantly.
"What could I do?" asked a Warsaw taxi-driver. "I don't like him. I don't think he's educated enough to be the president. But I don't want Tyminski to win."
Mr. Tyminski, an expatriate unknown here until two months ago, shook Mr. Walesa and Solidarity when he collected a 23 percent protest vote and beat Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki in the first round of voting Nov. 25.
Solidarity then mounted a campaign without precedent, using the machinery of the state to accuse the interloper of collaborating with the former Communist secret police to mount a coup against reformers.
A half-hour before the polls closed, the state-run television service ran an allegedly neutral campaign plug, showing voters how to mark their ballot papers. In close-up, a pencil ticked the box next to Mr. Walesa's name.
At his election headquarters in downtown Warsaw, Mr. Tyminski accused his rival of strong-arm tactics but admitted that he was "surprised" by the result. "I expected at least 50 percent," he said.
He was unclear whether he would remain in Poland to form an opposition party.
nTC In Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity movement, elated crowds gathered in front of the Solidarity headquarters.
Mr. Walesa, who received the news of his victory at his suburban villa, arrived shortly before 10 p.m. with his wife, Danuta. As hundreds of supporters bearing posters and flowers applauded outside, the couple drank champagne with campaign workers.
"If we have managed to change the system without shedding a drop of blood, then I am convinced that we can build a new system," Mr. Walesa said.
Before and during the election campaign, Mr. Walesa criticized the Mazowiecki government's efforts to do just that as too slow.
Mr. Walesa's insistence on holding an early presidential election soured his relations with Mr. Mazowiecki, who announced after his defeat in the first round that he would resign, and with Solidarity in general, which split into several factions.