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Poland Still on Course

POLAND'S newly elected president was painted during the campaign as an ex-Communist yearning for the old system. But that picture, held up by incumbent Lech Walesa, an anti-Communist hero, didn't sway a majority of Poles.

The victor in last Sunday's runoff, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was once a Communist editor and sports minister, but his campaign played on the theme, ''choose the future.'' That future, as defined by Mr. Kwasniewski, includes free-market economics and membership in NATO and the European Union.

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The challenger's youthful charisma played well during televised debates. Mr. Walesa's blustery style bombed. Still, Walesa, the father of today's democratic Poland, managed to make it a close race.

In the end, he was beaten by peasants and unemployed factory workers who haven't tasted the country's recent prosperity. They want a state-provided economic buffer - a sentiment common in much of Eastern Europe. Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Lithuania have all elected ex-Communist chiefs of state.

In Poland, at least, this election doesn't imply an about-face. From the size of the turnout (nearly 67 percent) to the push toward stronger relations with the West, indications are that Poland's democratic course is firmly set.

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