Polish victor pleads for national unity

ADRIAN BRIDGE

Warsaw

Aleksander Kwasniewski, surprise victor in Poland's presidential election, yesterday sought to calm fears about his Communist past by promising that Poland would not stray from the path of reform.

He also appealed to the man he defeated, Lech Walesa, to join forces with him in trying to heal the deep divisions that had been reopened as a result of the campaign. "A presidential election can't be a moment we go different roads," he said. "Our task can only be carried out if we all work together."

Mr Walesa was in no mood for reconciliation. "There is nothing we can talk about," he said shortly after conceding. He made it clear he would not take his defeat lying down. "I still have a lot of energy . . . the tango will start for real now."

Official results confirmed Mr Kwasniewski got 51.7 per cent of the vote compared to his rival's 48.3 per cent.

For Mr Walesa, who as leader of the Solidarity trade union played a key role in the downfall of Communism in 1989, defeat, particularly at the hands of a former Communist minister, was a bitter pill. But he said the closeness of the contest proved "the Solidarity ideal is still alive in the hearts of millions of Poles".

For Mr Walesa, the election represented a re-run of the Solidarity-Communism conflict. He dubbed his opponent a "Bolshevik" whose victory would mean Poland falling into the clutches of "a clique of old comrades linked in a 'Red spider-web'." Although many also perceived it that way, a lot agreed with Mr Kwasniewski that instead of dwelling on the past, it was time to look to the future. Many also felt that while he had undoubtedly served a vital purpose in getting rid of Communism, Mr Walesa's abrasive personality and his performance as president left much to be desired.

Mr Kwasniewski, a sports minister in the last Communist government and who now calls himself a social democrat, received strong support from younger voters whose memories of the old regime had clearly faded. "These young people, without historical sentiments or prejudices, are our greatest chance and our greatest hope," said the president-elect.

Although he was a member of the Communist Party from 1977 until it dissolved itself in 1990, Mr Kwasniewski says he was too young and junior to have been involved in anything too unsavoury. He defends his decision to remain in the party after the declaration of martial law in 1981 on grounds that he wanted to help reform it. In 1989 he was at talks with Solidarity that paved the way for the first partially free elections in Eastern Europe in 40 years.

Mr Kwasniewski, intelligent, articulate and attractive, emerged as the natural leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) that emerged from the ashes of the old Communist party in 1990. Under his leadership, he and the party have never looked back.

In 1993, on a ticket of softening the hardships of economic transformation, the SLD romped to victory in parliamentary elections. With Mr Kwasniewski's triumph in the presidential election, the party has come almost full circle.

To critics who accuse him of being a Moscow-leaning Communist stooge, he says that, contrary to predictions, the SLD-led government has not reversed economic reform nor backtracked on Poland's attempt to join Nato and the European Union. Nor will he as president, he promises.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?