Popular Election of a President

Popular Election of a President

Although Walesa had handpicked Mazowiecki to be prime minister and had played a key role in persuading the population to grant the young government a grace period, tensions between the two men emerged in early 1990. Perhaps regretting his decision not to seek the office of prime minister himself, Walesa began to criticize the Mazowiecki government. After the formal dissolution of the PZPR in January 1990, Walesa argued that the time had come to discard the concessions from the Round Table Agreement that prolonged the influence of the old regime. Sensing the depth of public discontent over falling living standards and rising unemployment, he leveled ever harsher criticism at Mazowiecki. In return, the Mazowiecki circle accused Walesa of destructive sloganeering. The acrimonious relations between the two camps led to the emergence of the first post-Solidarity political groupings. The pro-Walesa Center Alliance (Porozumienie Centrum) called for accelerating the pace of reform and purging former communist appointees as rapidly as possible. The Mazowiecki forces set up the Citizens' Movement for Democratic Action.

The split grew more serious following President Jaruzelski's announcement that he would retire before the expiration of his term in 1995. With the support of both noncommunist factions, parliament enacted legislation to make possible the direct election of the president. Both Walesa and Mazowiecki ran for the office in the fall of 1990, together with four other candidates of widely varying political associations and experience.

The campaign was bitter and divisive. Despite the heated rhetoric of the campaign, the candidates differed relatively little on substantive issues. Their disagreements stemmed mostly from the different leadership styles of the men. Wounded by attacks on his intelligence, Walesa revealed a streak of antiSemitism with remarks about the Jewish roots of the ruling clique in Warsaw. Meanwhile, falling living standards increased voters' disenchantment with the government's economic program. An uninspiring public speaker and a poor campaign organizer, Mazowiecki could not rally support during the short time remaining before the election.

Many voters apathetic toward the two front runners were attracted to the iconoclastic Stanislaw Tyminski, a wealthy expatriate with no political experience. Tyminski's campaign made effective use of his outsider status. His wild accusations against the leading candidates found a receptive audience. Tyminski asserted that given a chance, he could make all Poles rich.

The election results were a stunning rejection of the Mazowiecki government. With only 18 percent of the total vote, Mazowiecki finished third behind Walesa (40 percent) and the maverick Tyminski (23 percent). The candidate of the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland (SdRP), successor to the PZPR, received more than 9 percent of the vote, demonstrating the residual strength of the old party elite.

A runoff election between Tyminski and Walesa was necessitated by all candidates' failure to achieve a majority. Walesa sought the votes of Mazowiecki's supporters, promising to continue the basic course of economic transformation initiated by Mazowiecki's minister of finance, Leszek Balcerowicz. But the ad hominem attacks of the campaign made immediate reconciliation impossible. With the reluctant support of the Mazowiecki faction and the implicit endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church, Walesa won the runoff with almost 75 percent of the vote to become Poland's first popularly elected president. Although Walesa had prevailed, the bitter campaign had badly tarnished his image and worsened the splits in the old Solidarity coalition.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32862772
http://countrystudies.us/poland/65.htm


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