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Leftist leading in Polish election

By PATRICIA KOZA

WARSAW, Nov. 20 -- Leftist candidate Aleksander Kwasniewski staged an apparent upset in Poland's runoff presidential election as he led legendary anti-communist and incumbent President Lech Walesa, early returns showed Monday. With 1,150 of the country's 22,477 polling stations reporting, Kwasniewski had 51.4 percent of the vote compared to 48.6 percent for Walesa. Wojciech Pawlak of the state-run polling firm OBOP said early results probably reflect the outcome of Sunday's election. 'There is no risk in believing that the final results will not be different,' he said. Projections released earlier by OBOP had indicated Walesa would win by 50.2 percent to Kwasniewski's 49.8 percent, based on exit voting in 600 precincts. Another OBOP official speculated the projections were skewed because some voters refused to admit they voted for Kwasniewski. The early results caused dismay in the Walesa camp. The president's wife Danuta was seen on national television wringing her hands. At Kwasniewski's campaign headquarters, where supporters had endured several hours of projections showing Walesa ahead, the actual returns brought an explosion of joy and repeated cries of 'Olek, Olek' -- the nickname for Aleksander. More than 19 million of Poland's 28 million eligible voters -- about 67 percent -- cast their ballots in an election that political observers described as the most divisive since the end of communist rule in 1989. 'Poland was halved,' said Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. 'There will be a cold war in Poland. ' The challenger sought to downplay the divisions within Polish society caused by a presidential campaign seen by many as a choice between another turbulent but mediocre five-year term under Walesa, and a dynamic young leader who is saddled with a communist past.

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'Poland need not necessarily be divided,' Kwasniewski said at his campaign headquarters. 'I am convinced that democracy is developing, and that's a good sign...I call on Mr. Walesa to cooperate together (with me) for the good of Poland.' A win for Kwasniewski will put the presidency, as well as the government and Parliament, in the hands of the left. Walesa gained worldwide fame for leading the Solidarity union in a showdown against Poland's communist government. When the communists were ousted, the rumpled, affable Walesa stepped in to lead the country through its difficult transition to democracy and capitalism after 40 years of communist rule.

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