New President but Old Leader

Poland has a new president but not a new leader. The awkward Polish interregnum ended Wednesday as well as could have been hoped, with General Wojciech Jaruzelski's election by the new National Assembly to the new post of president.

Jaruzelski had been reluctant to run, in part because he feared rejection by members of the trade union Solidarity. They remember him mostly as the government leader who imposed martial law in 1981 and jailed hundreds of their leaders. Many Solidarity members preferred to abstain rather than cast a ballot for the general, the only candidate.

All the same he is the best man for the job, not the least because the problems facing any Polish leader in the next several years are bound to make him unpopular; Jaruzelski has no need to fear public discontent because he is already unpopular. Although some Communists voted against him on the ballot, Jaruzelski has a good chance of retaining the support of party and government officials whose expertise is needed for reform. His victory by the narrowest of margins--one vote--means that he will have to stay on his toes.

Jaruzelski has a new job but the same problem. He must find a way to overhaul the Polish economic and political system, allowing it to evolve from a command, one-party system to a pluralistic, market-oriented system. Not an easy task and one that will require much belt-tightening by Poles already drained by years of hardship. But he knows the government and knows its problems. He will be able to attack the difficulties more quickly than would a new leader.

Solidarity has the same role but a new task. The trade union is still the voice of opposition within the country and still speaks for a majority of Poles. From the trade union's position within the National Assembly, it will be able to promote the cause of reform without taking the heat for its failures. Its new task is to oppose and support the government simultaneously.

And finally, the Polish people have a new government, one that incorporates some of their values and goals. The man at the top may be the same, but everything else has changed.

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