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Voters Back Regime, Poland Says; Turnout Disputed

October 14, 1985|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

WARSAW — The Polish government Sunday claimed to have won a broad popular mandate in its first parliamentary elections in five years, although many people, including the majority of the influential Roman Catholic clergy, apparently refused to vote.

As the polls closed at 10 p.m., a government spokesman said the number of voters will exceed the 75% turnout at nationwide local elections last year.

"This . . . constitutes public approval of our policy," spokesman Jerzy Urban said. "It boils down to acceptance by a vast majority of the society of the stability and the moral and social values of our socialist system."

'Boycott Boycotted'

In a reference to the outlawed Solidarity trade union's call for a boycott of the election, Urban declared, "the boycott has been boycotted."

Solidarity leader Lech Walesa immediately disputed Urban's figures. He said that more than half the electorate in the Baltic city of Gdansk stayed home, along with many workers elsewhere in the country. Walesa and the Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Josef Glemp, who is on a visit to Rome, were among the most prominent figures not voting.

Urban acknowledged that a "majority" of the Catholic clergy boycotted the election. While calling Walesa's figures "totally fictitious," Urban confirmed that voter turnout in Gdansk, where Solidarity was born five years ago, was below the national average.

He contended, however, that with the exception of brief demonstrations in Gdansk and the southern steel-making center of Nowa Huta near Krakow, the election proceeded in an "atmosphere of calm and seriousness." There were conflicting reports that some security police may have been injured in Nowa Huta, a Solidarity stronghold.

Polish officials had said privately that they expect 80% to 85% of the nation's 26 million voters to take part in the elections, a significant increase from the 75% who were said to have voted in the local elections in June, 1984. With polls open until 10 p.m., final results will not be announced until today.

Solidarity, which is trying to compile its own estimate of the turnout for the elections to the 460-seat Parliament, or Sejm, has accused the government of inflating the 1984 figure by 10% to 15% to create an illusion of overwhelming public approval.

Several dozen Solidarity activists were reported detained in Gdansk, Warsaw and other cities on Saturday and Sunday in an apparent effort to disrupt its monitoring of the polls and hamper its communications. Stepped up police patrols were reported in major cities.

In Gdansk, Walesa said about 1,000 demonstrators marched toward the city center after a Catholic Mass but were dispersed peacefully by police.

Numbers Important

Because all candidates for Parliament have been approved by the ruling Communist Party, the question to be settled by the election was not who will win, but how many will cast ballots. The government sought a large turnout to enhance its credibility at home and abroad and support its claims that Solidarity is a dying force.

The 460 seats in Parliament were divided into two groups. Fifty uncontested seats were reserved for national figures, including Poland's leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski. The remaining 410 seats were each contested by two state-approved candidates. Dropping the ballot in the box unmarked is an automatic vote for the first or "preferred" candidate for each of the contested seats.

To ensure its control of Parliament, the Communist Party has reserved 85% of the seats for itself and two nominally independent political parties that in practice do not oppose the ruling Communists. A small number of independent deputies occasionally register opposing votes--a rare phenomenon in a Soviet Bloc country--but their effect on legislation is marginal.

Conversations with voters before and during Sunday's election indicated a variety of reasons for voting, not all of which signified support for the authorities or rejection of Solidarity.

An elderly man said he hoped that, by voting, his personal situation would improve. "I have an injured leg, but I haven't been able to get bandages for it for six months. Maybe if I vote I'll get some bandages," he said.

It was much easier, however, to find people who said they planned to vote out of a sense of resignation or fear of retribution. Voting is not required by law, but many Poles have voiced fears that failure to do so could lead to trouble at work, or in obtaining an apartment, a telephone, a passport to travel abroad, a pension or any one of countless other privileges meted out by the state.

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