Polish election gives regime second chance for reconcilation
For General Wojciech Jaruzelski's Warsaw government, it is a qualified success. For Solidarity, it is an indication that its activist underground is a spent force as an opposition.
That seems the first lesson of Sunday's local government elections in which, according to a preliminary official estimate, some 75 percent of the electorate voted.
The government has shown a certain confidence in something approaching that estimate, based on the pre-election sampling of its own opinion research center. That center forecasted at least a 20 percent hard-core abstention.
In any event, however, it must have brought considerable relief that Solidarity's boycott call, which was even backed by Lech Walesa's open announcement he himself would not vote, had not managed to arouse a greater response.
The final figures - turnout, percentages for successful candidates, and the margins of spoiled papers or otherwise negatived votes - are promised for Tuesday. Such results, however, are of much less significance than the fact that obviously a substantial majority was persuaded to go to the polls.
Herein lies the second lesson of this first election held in Poland since before the Solidarity era and its aftermath of martial law.
It is a lesson for the government and its ruling party in terms of a possible second opportunity to come to better terms with a still skeptical population.
While the boycott failure suggests the time has passed for any meaningful public support for active opposition, this also is not to be read as a demonstration of outright support for the government.
The more realistic official comment came near to this in viewing the turnout as sign of public concern for stabilization and peace in the country.
A year ago, the Pope's visit created just such hopeful expectations among most Poles. The government, however, failed to capitalize on it. The past year brought further disappointments; but people also became more tired of conflict, amid their daily troubles, as the underground's own failures several times showed.
If Sunday was a main political defeat for Solidarity, it can be seen also as a political opportunity for the government. Poles might now be just a bit more ready to give it time to take that opportunity.
For its part, the government might now feel sure enough of itself to be generous.
Satisfaction with the election should encourage it to make it clear that next year it will go ahead with elections for a new national parliament. (The present one, pre-dating Solidarity, has long overrun its term, and only a small minority of members sit with an elected mandate.)
Still more might General Jaruzelski gain by relaxing the government attitude toward hundreds of union activists and dissenters under detention. Sixty-one are serving sentences. Another 500 are under investigation.
What has now happened to contacts between the authorities and the Roman Catholic Church leadership over their release is not currently clear. The decision finally to put the four former ''KOR'' leaders on trial was a setback.
There is now on record also the government spokesman's tart comment that, because the Church had lent no support to official calls to Poles to vote, the Church could not expect a ''share in the election success.''
That could imply a rebuff to further Church involvment in amnesty. It does not, however, exclude the possibility that the authorities nonetheless may go ahead on their own.
Poles at large might not be so concerned about an essentially radical political body like KOR. They may have no interest for, nor see further merit in , active opposition. But very many are deeply concerned about the detainees overall, particularly the many scores of disaffected and frustrated young Poles among them.
Fortified now with this election turnout, this could be the moment for the government, which claims it has already given the country a certain stabilization, to make a gesture. And the best (and most popular) one at hand would be a general amnesty on postwar Poland's 40th national day a month hence.
If stability is, in fact, that much stronger, there would seem no reason either why amnesty should not also include mild handling at least of the four KOR prisoners.
It could convince Poles that their authoritarian government is prepared to ''give something'' to back its professions of national conciliation and to put meaning into its talk of social - or ''socialist'' - renewal.