Poland's reform is safest with me, says Walesa

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The Independent Online


President Lech Walesa yesterday sought to bolster his re-election chances by presenting himself as the only person capable of guaranteeing his country's continued commitment to reform.

In a wide-ranging review of his first five-year term, Mr Walesa said he had never wavered from his declared aim of "leading Poland to normality", but suggested that there was still some way to go.

"What is needed now is not so much a professor's attitude as a practical one," declared the former electrician and leader of the Solidarity trade union. "Society still has to carry out what is obvious - and for that we need a president who is revolutionary ... and has the will to fight."

Mr Walesa's will to fight is legendary. In addition to playing a key role in the fight against Communism, he has also sparred with many of his old Solidarity allies and with nearly all of the six governments with which he has dealt in the past five years.

It is generally acknowledged, moreover, that he faces an uphill battle to remain in the presidential palace after next month. According to opinion polls, support for Mr Walesa is standing at 16 per cent, well behind the 25 per cent registered for the front-runner, Aleksander Kwasniewski, leader of the reformed Communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

Mr Walesa is also facing competition on the right. The most serious threats come from Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, head of the national Bank of Poland, who is also scoring some 16 per cent, and Jacek Kuron, a former dissident and labour minister in the first two post-Communist governments.

In total 17 candidates are standing in the first round of the presidential vote on 5 November but only two will go through to the run-off two weeks later.

Mr Walesa is looking surprisingly upbeat. Earlier this year, with opinion poll ratings at just 6 per cent, his political future was being written off. Now he is in with a chance. If he can beat off the challenge from Mrs Gronkiewicz-Waltz and make it through to the second round, he will almost certainly reap the reward of an "anti-Kwasniewski" (or former Communist) vote.

In his campaigning, Mr Walesa is already strongly playing the anti- Communist card. With the current government dominated by the SLD, he is presenting himself as the only man who could act as an effective brake on its powers.

He is also seeking to campaign on his record. In the past five years Poland has certainly made giant leaps towards building a democratic, free- market society and has edged closer to the European Union and Nato. Mr Walesa's critics charge that this has happened despite rather than because of the President. But he is undeterred. He declared yesterday: "I have always removed every obstacle to reform and I will continue to remove all obstacles to reform."