BERLIN -- A former labor activist from the Solidarity trade union appeared to have come in first in Poland's hotly contested presidential election yesterday, but exit polls indicated that he would not win the majority he would need to avoid a runoff in two weeks.
Donald Tusk, 48, an unabashed free-market supporter who advocated a 15 percent flat tax for Poland, received 38.4 percent of the vote, according to exit polls last night commissioned by Polish state television. The official vote tally was not expected until today.
Trailing Tusk by 6 percentage points in the exit polls, with 32.1 percent, was the mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski. Kaczynski argued during the campaign that Tusk's policies would strip needed social protections from Polish workers.
The runoff, scheduled for Oct. 23, would pit the two top vote-getters against one another. A dozen other candidates ran in the election yesterday.
The choice is a stark one, even though both Tusk and Kaczynski were pro-democracy activists during the Solidarity movement of the 1980s, when Poland was under the rule of a Soviet-dominated Communist Party.
But while Tusk has long been a committed free-market advocate, believing that Poland needs to reduce regulation, social spending and taxes to spur economic growth, Kaczynski is a kind of big-government conservative - a social democrat on economic matters but a deeply religious traditionalist on issues like divorce, abortion and homosexual rights.
The incumbent president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, has been in office since 1995. He has served two terms, the maximum the Polish Constitution allows.