WITOLD TRZECIAKOWSKI had just won a resounding victory in his race for senator - with more than 75 percent of the vote - and throughout Poland, fellow Solidarity candidates were scoring similar stunning victories. But Mr. Trzeciakowski was not smiling.
``I'm scared by our success,'' he explains. ``There could be a backlash, either from our own authorities or from the Russians.''
The most dangerous moment for a totalitarian regime comes when it tries to reform. When Warsaw's reforming communist rulers dared hold the East bloc's freest election in more than four decades, the voters did not respond with gratitude. They instead rejected the reformers who were promising democracy.
The Communist Party did not win a single seat in Sunday's parliamentary election. Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski and most of his Cabinet crashed to defeat, even though they ran unopposed on a ``national list.'' They failed to gain the 50 percent approval needed to win a seat in the lower house, or Sejm. Many communist candidates received 10 percent of the vote or less, as voters crossed off their names from the ballots.
The Solidarity opposition meanwhile won 92 of the 100 Senate seats outright in the first round and looks set to sweep the eight remaining posts in June 18's second round. It also won 160 of the 161 seats in the Sejm which it was permitted to contest. On average, its candidates took a whopping 70 to 80 percent of the vote.
``Solidarity showed itself to be a formidable political machine and the party showed itself to be a bureaucratic shell,'' comments one Western diplomat. ``The imbalance is so striking that it's bound to be destabilizing.''
Despite their defeat, the crushed communists still cling to power. Under April's round-table compromise which set up the election process, the party and its allies are guaranteed 65 percent of the 460 total Sejm seats. Victorious Solidarity remains a minority in opposition.
The unfair, undemocratic outcome produced glum, ashen faces among both winners and losers.
Almost 40 percent of the population did not even participate, sending a chilling message that they have little enthusiasm for Poland's new political experiment. Political analysts suggest that a large slice probably were radical youngsters, who reject what they describe as Solidarity's ``sellout to the communists.'' Others could have been frustrated, anti-reform party supporters.
Solidarity leaders now feel pressure from within their own ranks to press their advantage. Communist hard-liners not only in Warsaw, but also in other East European capitals and in Moscow, all could react, saying, ``Look where reform leads.'' In Poland, nothing prevents the authorities from invalidating the elections or declaring martial law.
Everybody here intensely follows events in the Soviet Union and in China.
``We must tell the people with all force that the alternative to the round table is what happened in Tbilisi and Beijing,'' says Adam Michnik, a leading Solidarity strategist. ``People's hopes have been raised, but they still have no instruments of realizing those aspirations. It is a potentially revolutionary situation - in the best Leninist sense of the term.''
In order to avoid such a catastrophe, both sides have adopted a conciliatory, cooperative attitude, continuing to preach evolution, not revolution.
There is little of the spontaneous enthusiasm of 1980 after Solidarity was born, no victory parties, no public rejoicing. Everyone remembers how emotions ended up in martial law and Solidarity's banning.
``Both sides so far have displayed a remarkably sophisticated political culture,'' comments another Western diplomat. ``They remember 1981.''
Communist Party spokesman Jan Bisztyga says the government would respect its commitments to democratic elections, and appealed to Solidarity to take ``joint responsibility for the State.''
When asked about whether they would call out the Army again, party officials laugh. ``We are not considering any other alternatives as political consequences of the election results,'' Mr. Bisztyga said.
``We were pleased by this statement because we had feared a panic reaction on the part of some groups in the party,'' Janusz Onyszkiewicz, the Solidarity spokesman, told the Monitor. ``Luckily, and I say that with certain cynicism, we had no type of jubilant mood on the part of our supporters. This reserve is important. It calms party fears, and may help the party accept the results,'' he says.
Mr. Onyszkiewicz says that his movement ``would keep its agreement signed at the round table.'' He ruled out a formal coalition government with Solidarity ministers, saying, ``This is impractical because it would take too long to work out.'' But he said the opposition was ready to collaborate with a communist government ``on an issue-to-issue basis.''
Bronislaw Geremek, a leading Solidarity adviser, described the possible solution as a ``union of social forces.''
In return for informal parliamentary support of a communist government, Solidarity would demand concrete commitments toward democratization.
``There must be entirely free elections in four years,'' Mr. Geremek explained, ``and we must begin rewriting the Constitution to rid it of the clause concerning the `leading role of the party.'''
Tough bargaining lies ahead. Some way must be found of filling the 35 seats left empty by the defeat of the communists' ``national list.'' The decision of communist leaders to put themselves up before the voters proved a horrendous mistake, showing just how unprepared they were to deal with the rigors of true parliamentary democracy.
``It was a sin of arrogance,'' Geremek explained. ``They assumed a certain loyalty,'' of people automatically giving them votes.
Solidarity leaders say they tried to warn the party leaders against the ``national list'' idea. No one listened. Then they went out on the stump to appeal to voters not to cross out the names of their communist partners.
``Whenever I explained the dangers to voters about rejecting the national list, they didn't want to listen,'' recalls Trzeciakowski. ``They just wanted to show disapproval of the communists.''
The defeated candidates' fate remains unclear. A somber government spokesman, Zbyslaw Rykowski, announced that the Rakowski government will offer its resignation when the new parliament meets. But no one knows whether these resignations will be accepted.
``Let's hope Rakowski and the others don't act emotionally and resign,'' Onyszkiewicz said. ``We'll have to see.''
The next question concerns the new, powerful post of president, to be filled by a majority vote of the new parliament. Everyone assumed that the post would go to the Communist Party leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who was not a candidate in the legislative elections. But the communist failure may have jolted that assumption.
Some are suggesting that General Jaruzelski now may step down. So great is the communist failure that he may not have the necessary votes to win the presidency. A few defections from his coalition partners such as the Peasant Party could swing the balance of combined Senate and Sejm seats to Solidarity - leaving open the theoretical possibility that its leader, Lech Walesa, could become President.
Solidarity leaders seem divided over how to respond. No one suggests putting Mr. Walesa up for the post. Some say the round-table agreement specifically called for Jaruzelski to become President. Others say there was no such explicit deal, though it was assumed Jaruzelski would in the post.
Could the opposition actually in the end provide the votes for Jaruzelski, the man who declared martial law? A compromise candidate, even a respected nonparty figure, might emerge.
These delicate, dangerous problems must be solved soon. President Bush comes here on July 9 for a three-day visit, and there must be a President to receive him. Polish officials hope the President will help ease their country's debt burden of $40 billion and pave the way for renewed credits from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Any retreat from the reform road would jeopardize this aid, and the country's economy is desperate for help. Meat and milk prices must be raised in July to make up for a yawning budget deficit.
In the past, raising food prices has sparked strikes. This time, Trzeciakowski, Solidarity's leading economic specialist, says they might produce riots, with angry workers burning down party headquarters.
``I believe Jaruzelski is committed to reform, but these [election] results could change his attitude and make him believe the time isn't ripe,'' Trzeciakowski says. ``The second danger is that when the Russians could see the disaster and decide that there is danger to the continuity of the system.''
Would Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev really stop Polish democratic reform?
``The Russians don't want to, it would mean the end of perestroika [restructuring] and glasnost [openness],'' Trzeciakowski concludes. ``But they might be forced to intervene.''