Polish election down to clash of old enemies

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The 13 candidates in tomorrow's Polish presidential election closed their campaigns yesterday as a poll confirmed it had come down to a two-man race. The poll, in Rzeczpospolita newspaper, said Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former Communist leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), looked set to clinch 32 per cent of the vote, followed by President Lech Walesa on 29 per cent.

None of the other hopefuls, including Jacek Kuron, the veteran dissident, and Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, head of the central bank, looked likely to secure more than 10 per cent.

As all but the first two candidates will be eliminated after tomorrow's vote, the second round on 19 November looks set to be a confrontation between Mr Kwasniewski and his old adversary, Mr Walesa.

For many voters, the campaign has come down to a choice between the heirs of the old Communist regime - in the form of Mr Kwasniewski - and those of the Solidarity movement that toppled it, embodied by Mr Walesa, the union's founder and former leader. The perceived clash between the two traditions and ideologies has taken precedence over serious discussion about key issues facing the country, such as how to proceed with economic reform and how to define the role of the Catholic Church.

For Mr Walesa, who was trailing Mrs Gronkiewicz-Waltz and Mr Kuron in polls earlier this year, the reduction of the campaign to a rerun of the battles of the 1980s has resurrected his political fortunes.

For Mr Kwasniewski, whose party dominates the ruling coalition, it could be fatal. Though he is seen as more educated, able and professional than his rival, most people believe his being a minister in the last Communist administration will weigh more heavily with voters than all his protestations of being a genuinely reformed social democrat.

In his first five-year term, Mr Walesa's abrasive style alienated him from most of his former Solidarity allies, including Mr Kuron, who, despite impeccable dissident credentials, has had a disappointing campaign. He described the likely showdown between Mr Walesa and Mr Kwasniewski as "one hell of an alternative" and urged voters not to let it come down to a choice of the "lesser of two evils". But if it does, Mr Walesa, for all his faults, is still seen as the man best able to prevent too much power returning to the ex-Communists. As many in Warsaw are saying, it could well be a case of better the devil you know.