After a bruising presidential campaign that has tested their new democracy, Poles choose today between anti-Communist hero Lech Walesa and a wealthy stranger who for some symbolizes capitalist success.
Polls indicate that Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement, should easily defeat emigre businessman Stanislaw Tyminski and head the country that he already symbolizes for millions worldwide.But Tyminski's come-from-nowhere bid, which eliminated Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki in the first round of voting Nov. 25, was so unexpected that few are willing to rule him out entirely until all votes are counted.
More than 27 million Poles are eligible to cast the paper ballots at 22,000 polling stations nationwide.
Voting sites opened at 6 a.m. Sunday (10 p.m. Saturday MST) and close at 8 p.m. (noon MST). Reliable projections are expected within minutes, based on exit polls conducted throughout the day by state television and the German polling service Infas.
The president will succeed Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former Communist Party chief who imposed martial law on Solidarity nine years ago.
Polls last week indicated the 47-year-old Walesa was leading Tyminski by as much as 73 percent to 16 percent.
For Walesa, the presidency would culminate an astonishing personal voyage, from the middle child of dirt-poor peasants to an electrician dismissed for union organizing; from union leader to political prisoner to the nation's highest office.
One joke making the rounds says Poland finally will become a true Communist state because it will have a worker as president.