Beaten Walesa claims poll was rigged

Polish election: Ousted President calls for a re-run as supporters say ballot boxes were stuffed with bogus voting slips
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Poland's outgoing President, Lech Walesa, yesterday made it clear that he would leave no stone unturned in his bid to strike back at the former Communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who narrowly defeated him in the presidential poll.

Just one day after official results confirmed that Mr Kwasniewski had won by a margin of just over three per cent, close associates of Mr Walesa charged there had been electoral fraud and that they planned to contest the results in the Supreme Court.

Jerzy Gwizdz, the head of Mr Walesa's re-election campaign, said he had received reports that bunches of ballots were allegedly added to polling boxes and that names were missing or included twice on voters' lists in Warsaw and Lodz.

Other spokesmen for the president said they had documented cases of vote- rigging and incidents of people arriving to vote only to find that others had voted under their names. They also claimed that Mr Kwasniewski, had deliberately misled voters about his educational qualifications.

The allegations were swiftly denied by Mr Kwasniewski's campaign managers who said they were simply an attempt to whip up public hostility to the president-elect.

Even many who voted for Mr Walesa conceded that there had been no question of wide-scale vote-rigging on Sunday and that even if a few isolated cases were confirmed, it was unthinkable that the Supreme Court would see fit to annul the result and order a re-vote.

"It is difficult not to see this a case of sour grapes," said Piotr Stasinski, political editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper that supported Mr Walesa's campaign. "The President is using the accounts of irregularities as a weapon."

For Mr Walesa, who as leader of the Solidarity trade union played a key role in the overthrow of Communism in 1989, defeat at the hands of a man who was sports minister in the last truly communist government is proving a very bitter pill to swallow. And he has made it clear that he does not intend to go either quietly or gracefully.

Almost as soon as he formally conceded defeat on Monday, a surly Mr Walesa said that he would not attend the formal handover of power on 23 December. He then declined Mr Kwasniewski's appeal for reconciliation.

"We're not going to talk because we don't have anything to talk about," said Mr Walesa. "I took slaps in the face - so much so that in accordance with the Old Testament I strike back until his jaw falls off."

Far from playing the role of an elder statesman, Mr Walesa, still only 52, plans to go on the political offensive. In the manner of Mr Kwasniewski's own highly successful campaign, he plans to spend the next few months touring the country with the aim of unifying Poland's hopelessly split centre and right and creating a new party to contest the 1997 parliamentary elections.

According to some analysts, Mr Walesa, who secured 48.3 per cent of Sunday's vote, may be the only figure able to unite the right and make it a credible counterweight to Mr Kwasniewski's reformed communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the dominant party in the governing coalition.

According to others, his abrasive personality and strong authoritarian tendencies would never gain widespread support. Many of Mr Walesa's former Solidarity allies can never forgive him for splitting the movement in 1990 when he ran (successfully) for the presidency against the then Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. "A man who once yielded the hammer to such devastating effect is not the man to put the pieces all together again," said Piotr Nowina-Konopka, a senior figure in the Freedom Union party.

If Mr Walesa is unable to carve out an important enough political role for himself, there are fears that he may return to an even earlier occupation: that of rabble-rouser.

As the former leader of the Solidarity trade union, Mr Walesa has not lost his touch when it comes to whipping up a crowd and stirring worker unrest.