THE Polish election may have left the parliament in disarray, but it has left President Lech Walesa in a much stronger position.Either praised for his political instinct and courage or disdained for his uneducated, unpolished, home-grown style, Mr. Walesa is a controversial figure here. Far from the most popular politician in Poland today, his popularity has dropped sharply. But the political situation now seems to mandate an even greater role for Walesa. Last Sunday's elections resulted in a fractioned, unstable parliament with strong fringes on the left and right, and a splintered center. Walesa will play a pivotal role in nominating a new prime minister, who will then build a Cabinet - all of which must be approved by the divisive parliament. Walesa has clearly signaled his readiness to take the chaotic situation in hand by suggesting last week that he may take on the job of prime minister himself, a move permitted by the Constitution. (Political standoff puts reform at risk, Page 7.) "Walesa will still be a strong president.... He knows how to act in a decisive way in a difficult situation - even if this means acting on his own," says Zbigniew Janas, a leading figure in the Democratic Union, the Solidarity spinoff party which got the most votes on Sunday, but which opposes Walesa. Walesa said the government's main goals were privatization, beating the recession and unemployment, and bringing "criminals" (i.e. communists) to justice. Many press reports have presented the Oct. 27 vote as a rejection of reform, pointing to the low voter turnout (40 percent) and support for the communists and right-wing nationalists. But not all Poles agree. Janusz Sciskalski, head of the Solidarity trade union at the Ursus tractor factory in Warsaw, says, "I'm surprised at the high turnout. I work among the real people, and I was expecting only 20 or 30 percent." Voter discontent was not the only factor. The complexity of the voting procedure and the difficulty of distinguishing the numerous parties also discouraged voters. In numerous interviews on the street not one Pole favored abandoning reform or trying a "third way." Even in Warsaw's working-class neighborhood, most favored speeding up reforms. Walesa's challenge is to keep the new, disunited parliament on the path toward reform, and to cushion the transition as much as possible. Otherwise, warns Solidarity member Sciskalski, do not be surprised if social unrest erupts in the streets.