POLAND'S first free parliamentary elections since World War II should have been a moment of triumph for this long-suffering country.But instead, many political leaders here view it as a tragedy. On Sunday, Polish voters elected so many parties to parliament that none came even close to winning a majority. The party with the greatest support, a Solidarity spinoff called Democratic Union, did not even reach 15 percent. Commentators and politicians who appeared on Polish television to analyze the election results doubted whether a coalition government could be formed at all. A few suggested that President Lech Walesa may even be forced to dissolve this parliament and call a second election. Poland is at a crossroad, with key decisions facing its parliament. It needs a new constitution. It must decide on a government model - for instance, whether to have a ceremonial presidency, such as in Germany, or a strong one, such as in France. Most urgently, it needs to get on with economic reform. But "it would take a miracle to make this parliament work," said Jan Bazyl Lipszyc, of Gazeta Wyborcza, a publication which specializes in election coverage. The fragmentation among parties was worse than expected. Voter turnout was disappointing, at a low 40 percent. This was attributed to the confusing array of choices before the voters (in Warsaw, the ballot was 12 pages long), as well as voter discontent. But what shook Poland's politicians even more was the relatively strong showing of the former communists and their allies. Together, they accounted for almost 30 percent of the vote. "There is a loser, and that is the Polish people," said Wlademar Pawlak, a key figure in another Solidarity spinoff, the Central Alliance. He complained bitterly about the voting law, which had been passed by the communist-dominated parliament and was designed to guarantee even the smallest party representation. Until this election, the communists have been able to block the reforms of President Walesa by controlling two-thirds of seats in the Sejm, the important lower house of parliament. Solidarity agreed to this powersharing deal in 1989, when the trade union was a lone democratic voice in eastern Europe and thought a gradual turn toward democracy was its only option. Walesa tried to put a good face on the elections, calling it the start of a new era of democracy. "There is no euphoria, because this has been an evolutionary process," he said, "but we should be happy that we've reached this point." It is expected that Walesa will play a key role in guiding the parliament toward a workable coalition, if one can be found. In the weeks leading up to the elections, he kept himself above the fray, preserving his chance to act as negotiator. "He wants to be, and is going to be, a kind of anchor for the country," says one diplomat in Warsaw. Political analysts think the various Solidarity spinoff groups may work together to form a coalition, despite their differences. This was suggested Sunday night by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the former prime minister and a leader of the Democratic Union party. In reality, the Solidarity spinoffs are not so far from each other. They all support economic reform. The differences lie in nuance: how fast or how slow reform should proceed and to what extent the government should intervene in the economy. The problem among the Solidarity groups lies in deep, personal rivalries between their members. Just two days before the election, one of the leading members of Democratic Union, Zbigniew Janas, adamantly refused a coalition with the Center Alliance, the post-Solidarity group closest to Walesa.
Solidarity coalition "With some of our ex-colleagues, the situation has lead to such a state ... that a coalition is really out of the question," he says. "They have said too many rude things." Whatever arrangement emerges, the parliament will have major decisions ahead. Top in most voters' minds is the economy. "I think the economy is the highest priority - it has worsened, no doubt about it," says Ewa, a factory worker in Warsaw who braved the sleet on Sunday to vote. "Even though my husband is in private business, our financial situation is not good," she says. "It's high time the government got serious."
Support for reform Most people here support the stringent monetary reforms which have reined in inflation and made the zloty convertible inside Poland. But they want the social reforms that should support them as well, such as proper housing, health care, job training, and unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, an enormous unknown lurks in the future. Unemployment is already at 10 percent, and more is on the way, chiefly because the government has done next to nothing to privatize the country's vast network of inefficient state-owned industry. With Sunday's election results, it seems the only option left for Poles is their old fallback - hoping that things will get better. This is the view of Dawid Gorkier, a young manager with a Warsaw wholesaler. "I hope for peace and calm in the country. My hope is that I won't be forced to leave the country, like my sister was 15 years ago."