Walesa's Mandate

LECH WALESA's resounding runoff victory eases some of the uncertainties left by the general election two weeks ago. That tally had given second place to expatriate businessman and political novice Stanislaw Tyminski. A combination of press barrages and his own increasingly bizarre statements held Mr. Tyminski's share of the vote this time around to about what it had been. Mr. Walesa's total shot to 75 percent.

Backed by this mandate, Poland's new president is poised for the next stage of post-communist development. He faces the politically delicate task of rallying Poles behind continued economic reform, despite heavy costs in lost jobs and falling incomes. Walesa had called for accelerated reforms, a faster pace of privatization. Campaigning for the runoff, however, he shifted emphasis to providing more help to those hurt by the current transition to capitalism. Some are worried he might put reform in reverse in order to save some jobs and lessen feelings of despair.

More likely, he'll try to keep something of a social safety net in place while pushing the reforms steadily ahead. Walesa will have to employ his gifts for leadership and inspirational words as never before. But experience over the last decade has prepared him for this work.

Following Sunday's electoral victory, Walesa exhorted his supporters: ``Since we defeated the system without one gunshot or drop of blood, we can dare to build a new system. I'm convinced we can make it.''

Not all Poles share that confidence. The lower turnout for Sunday's vote, only 53 percent, indicated flagging public interest in the political process. And Tyminski's earlier, strong showing remains a signal of people's desperate desire for a way out of the current upheaval.

Still, Poland's democratic institutions are taking shape. Next year promises a truly representative parliament following elections in spring and a new constitution by May. And unlike its giant neighbor to the east, Poland is largely free of the institutional biases against private ownership and individual initiative that can hold back economic change, even while new political institutions rapidly evolve.

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