WARSAW -- Poland held its first fully free parliamentary vote since World War II yesterday and elected a fragmented legislature, exit polls showed, with the balance of power held by parties that campaigned for easing the country's economic reforms.
The vote appeared to reflect a restless dissatisfaction, with seats divided evenly among peasant, religious, nationalist, communist, center-right and center-left parties. Voter turnout was estimated at only 40 percent.
The results -- with the nationalists and peasants faring far better than in last year's presidential election, in which 60 percent of the electorate voted -- suggest a revival of Poland's pre-World War II past.
After years of defining their politics as a battle between light and dark, communism and Solidarity, voters groped for shades of gray on this chilly, snowswept election day.
Mostly they supported parties that had promised to protect their special interests or had offered a compromise between the austere communist economy of the postwar decades and the rigorous free-market approach of the last two years.
The top vote-getter, projected to receive only 13.6 percent, was the Democratic Union, which was organized last year by the intellectuals who were the architects of Solidarity's triumph over communism.
Just two years after they were pushed from power in disgrace, the former communists, renamed the Democratic Left Alliance, were projected to finish with 12.5 percent. The result stunned many leaders of Poland's anti-communist struggle.
The exit polls were conducted by Infas, a German company that has accurately forecast results of previous elections in Eastern Europe.
The two parties emerging directly from the ranks of the Solidarity movement, the center-left Democratic Union and the center-right Center Alliance, together received only about one-quarter of the vote.
Candidates running directly under the banner of the Solidarity trade union were forecast to receive 5.8 percent, less than suggested in pre-election opinion polling.
Among the surprises was the strong showing of the two leading Roman Catholic parties, which together received about 12 percent. The religious parties, not a significant factor in Polish politics until now, appear to have benefited from a strong push in the last week of the campaign by the nation's bishops and priests.