POLAND'S wild ride toward democracy and capitalism took an unexpected turn on Sunday. Its first free presidential election put Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement, on top as expected. But his opponent in the Dec. 9 runoff will be Stanislaw Tyminski, a virtual unknown who has spent the last 21 years making money in Canada and Peru. Mr. Tyminski's surprising defeat of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki for second place was a measure of the frustration and distress felt by Polish workers. Tyminski played on his business successes in the West, which seemed to impress the farmers, coal miners, and others whose fortunes have plummeted as communist-era subsidies and job guarantees have been extracted from Polish life. He also engaged in slurs against other candidates, notably Mr. Mazowiecki, giving Poles a look at the darker side of electoral politics.
The prime minister, like Mr. Walesa a key figure in Solidarity, felt the brunt of the anger generated by a 40 percent drop in real incomes and mounting unemployment. Mazowiecki's program of tough reforms, however, is essential to putting Poland back on its feet. Walesa backs the same measures, and in fact would accelerate them.
The reins of government are now likely to pass to Walesa. The Solidarity chief should easily eliminate Tyminski, who will draw fewer protest votes with the head of government no longer in the race. Walesa has hinted he may refuse to run against Tyminski, whom he considers an upstart. That, however, is probably more a ploy to bring Mazowiecki supporters to his side than a real threat.
Walesa and Poland face another challenging year ahead. Labor strife may increase as privatization policies root out inefficient industry. If anyone can soothe workers' anger, Walesa can. Political pluralism is likely to deepen, as the fracture in Solidarity results in new parties. Parliamentary elections next spring will erase what's left of the 1989 deal that left 65 percent of lower-house seats in communist hands. A new Constitution is scheduled for completion in the spring.
Poland's journey toward a better future, though rough, has a sound road map.