WARSAW — DEPRIVED of a decisive victory in Poland's first popular presidential elections, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa faces an unexpected challenge from a little-known opponent whose emergence as a serious contender has thrown the Solidarity movement off balance. Emigr'e businessman Stanislaw Tyminski on Sunday defeated Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki by a narrow margin to stay in the presidential race, which will now be decided in a runoff election Dec. 9. Mr. Walesa, as expected, was the strongest candidate with partial returns Monday giving him 40.5 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed for victory.
It was rising support for Mr. Tyminski that kept Walesa from capturing a first-round majority, analysts say. The political outsider's showing of 23 percent was a bitter defeat for Mr. Mazowiecki, who trailed with 16.5 percent, according to returns reported by PAP the official news agency. Official election results were expected today.
The extent of support for Tyminski, a businessman who returned to Poland after 21 years in Canada and Peru, stunned leaders in the two major political camps. Walesa has threatened to drop out of the race rather than contest a second round against Tyminski.
Also unsettling for the government was Mazowiecki's promise before the vote to ``immediately'' resign as prime minister if he lost. No action had been taken by Mazowiecki or Walesa at press time.
Bronislaw Geremek, a Solidarity member and former adviser to Walesa, says Tyminski's strong support among the field of six candidates suggests ``we are not yet ripe for democracy.''
Others were more direct. ``Tyminski is dangerous to democracy in Poland,'' says Aleksander Hall, an adviser to the prime minister. ``Our road to normalcy is going to be a long one.''
Mazowiecki, who says he now plans to join the opposition in Parliament, said he believed ``the results show a certain crisis in Polish society. We are going to fight on for the kind of democracy we want.''
During the campaign, the prime minister's cerebral approach and lackluster public appearances were no match for Walesa's polished brio on the stump. Walesa held the allegiance of many workers, while government officials and professionals sided with the prime minister.
But both Walesa and Mazowiecki increasingly targeted Tyminski as his standing increased in the polls. Tyminski unleashed a storm of controversy and outrage after he accused Mazowiecki of betraying the country with his economic policies. A preliminary slander investigation has been launched in connection with those remarks.
Undaunted, Tyminski continued an aggressive campaign aimed at convincing voters he would use his business acumen to turn the nation's economy around. That message apparently struck a chord in a society buffeted by soaring prices and unemployment. According to a poll conducted by Polish television, 56 percent of those asked said they believed Tyminski would make them a profit if they gave him money to invest.
Tyminski's flamboyant style appealed to thousands of disenchanted Poles and played on their admiration of the well-healed, polished leaders of the West. Tyminski himself is not surprised at the results. ``I am very happy that I am considered an honest man,'' he says.
Kostanty Gebert, a political analyst in Warsaw, says Tyminski was successful because ``he promised something radically new.'' Tyminski did very well in rural areas where discontent over agriculture policies is great. The dark-horse candidate also robbed the prime minister of a decisive win in the Warsaw region, considered a Mazowiecki region.
Walesa and Mazowiecki, once close Solidarity trade union allies who worked together for more than a decade to end Communist rule in Poland, fought an increasingly nasty race.
Walesa waged a pugnacious and populist campaign against a government he largely created. The Nobel Peace Prize winner had proposed Mazowiecki as the East Bloc's first non-communist prime minister in August 1989.
Solidarity Senator Edward Wende says the election results could mark the end of an era for the divided trade union. ``Solidarity was supposed to be a force to build a new democracy,'' Mr. Wende says. ``But Solidarity has lost its political strength. We all lost it.''
Although Walesa is the favorite to win the runoff to replace Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski as president, some analysts say the vote may not give Walesa a strong mandate. ``If there is a low turnout, Walesa could end up being a very weak president,'' says Stanislaw Gebethner, a political commentator in Warsaw.