Poland Still on Course

POLAND'S newly elected president was painted during the campaign as an ex-Communist yearning for the old system. But that picture, held up by incumbent Lech Walesa, an anti-Communist hero, didn't sway a majority of Poles.

The victor in last Sunday's runoff, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was once a Communist editor and sports minister, but his campaign played on the theme, ''choose the future.'' That future, as defined by Mr. Kwasniewski, includes free-market economics and membership in NATO and the European Union.

The challenger's youthful charisma played well during televised debates. Mr. Walesa's blustery style bombed. Still, Walesa, the father of today's democratic Poland, managed to make it a close race.

In the end, he was beaten by peasants and unemployed factory workers who haven't tasted the country's recent prosperity. They want a state-provided economic buffer - a sentiment common in much of Eastern Europe. Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Lithuania have all elected ex-Communist chiefs of state.

In Poland, at least, this election doesn't imply an about-face. From the size of the turnout (nearly 67 percent) to the push toward stronger relations with the West, indications are that Poland's democratic course is firmly set.

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