Wary of Ex-Communists, Poles Boost Walesa in Vote

POLAND, struggling through its second free presidential election, reminds the world again how hard it is truly to make a revolution.

At issue are not only the questions of keeping Polish economic reform on track, but of developing a political culture based on principles instead of personalities, of finding an electoral home for the underrepresented political center and right, and of establishing a new constitution.

Alexander Kwasniewski, the man who would be democratic Poland's second elected president, has campaigned with the slogan, ''Let's choose the future.''

But enough voters are evidently concerned that this ex-Communist will bring back the past that incumbent President Lech Walesa, counted out not long ago, has managed a remarkable comeback, despite his widely perceived shortcomings.

Mr. Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), has repeatedly and rather testily denied that he and his party aim to bring back the totalitarian bad old days of Communism.

Yet however much Kwasniewski himself may be a liberal free-marketeer, he has party colleagues concerned mostly with guaranteeing their members jobs in state enterprises. His disciplined party apparatus virtually guaranteed him a strong showing in Sunday's first-round voting: 38 percent, according to initial results from the state electoral commission.

But a counter force encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church gave Walesa second place with 30 percent of the vote at this writing. The two candidates will meet in a runoff vote Nov. 19.

The standardbearer

Poland, with its size, its position at the crossroads between East and West, and its bold experiment with economic ''shock therapy,'' retains a special significance in the transforming European landscape.

The Poles' revolution was never as velvety as the Czechs', or as swift as the Germans'. But in the 1980s, when the citizens of the latter countries were mostly keeping their heads down and muddling through Communism, the Poles were boldly pushing the limits of Soviet tolerance through the Solidarity trade union movement.

Today, it is difficult for many to see how the rest of Eastern Europe can succeed in reform if Poland were to fail in implementing democratic and market reforms.

This election had looked at one point likely to produce Poland's first post-Walesa presidency, a sign that the work of revolution was accomplished and Walesa's ambition for Poland to be a ''normal country,'' with a peaceful transition of power, had been achieved.

But a second Walesa term is now widely - but not universally - expected two weeks before the final vote. Walesa already yesterday earned endorsements from three former prime ministers and two ex-foreign ministers, all highly respected centrist politicians.

Smear tactics

Walesa has won back hearts over the last couple of months with tireless stumping, but smear tactics have also been part of the race.

Polish politics is very personalized, rather than based on principles. Walesa can be confrontational and arbitrary, blowing hot or cold on this or that appointee. He doesn't have an orderly party apparatus behind him. Kwasniewski does have this, but it's not clear that this party meshes fully with his own personal convictions.

For the parties of the right, the situation is worse: Personality conflicts between ideologically similar leaders have splintered them below the 5 percent level needed for representation in parliament. These disenfranchised splinters add up to about 25 percent of the electorate.

In the 1790s, Poland had one of the first written constitutions in the world, after the United States and France. But today, Poland relies on a patchwork of legal documents left over from previous regimes as a constitutional commission - headed, by the way, by Kwasniewski - works on a new document.

Walesa has tended to take an expansive view of presidential powers, arguing that Poland needs a strong presidency, rather than the ceremonial one typical of parliamentary systems. The SLD-controlled parliament has taken a different view, however.

Some observers feel that, if reelected, Walesa is likely to interpret his new mandate as the occasion to dissolve parliament and call early elections to yield a new parliament more congenial to the president, especially on constitutional questions.

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