Having mounted a pugnacious campaign against a government he largely created, Lech Walesa is presenting himself as a man vindicated by events and predicts victory in Sunday's presidential elections.

"I was born only for victory. So I have to win," Walesa declared in an interview with The Associated Press at his headquarters Monday.Polls show Walesa ahead of his chief rival and former ally, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. But with four others in the field, it was unclear if anyone would get a first-round majority and avoid a runoff Dec. 9.

The 47-year-old Solidarity chairman accused

his opponents of talking only about his personality and ambitions, not substantive issues.

"I am waiting for a political discussion while my partners are saying that I have dirty fingernails and so try to discourage people from voting for me," Wa-lesa said.

Walesa, who picked Mazowiecki for prime minister in August 1989 after the long-ruling Communists suffered a humiliating electoral defeat, said he was laughed at early this year when he urged the government to pick up the speed of reforms.

He said he saw that dramatic steps were needed, including purging government and industry of Communists.

"My colleagues - dangerous politicians - were carrying out a dangerous policy which was on the edge of civil war. I made an attempt to save us . . . to save reform," Walesa said.

The Mazowiecki camp argues that Poland's delicate transition to full democracy could be thwarted if the government engages in a large-scale "witch hunt" for ex-Communists.

Virtually all of Walesa's former advisers have sided with Mazowiecki, leaving Walesa to assemble a new team of unionists and lesser-known politicians.

"I have been struggling for nine months to regain Solidarity's position and to regain my position. I do not know to what extent it worked, but from what I see, it did," Walesa said.

A peasant's son with a trade-school education, Walesa said he differs from his former colleagues, most of them intellectuals, because he is not frightened by ordinary people.

"If you fear the masses, then of course the masses will defeat you," he said.