Poles in United States Vote in Elections in Their Homeland With AM-Poland-Election, Bjt
CHICAGO (AP) _ Thousands of smiling, flag-waving Poles gathered at their nation’s consulates in the United States on Saturday to vote in the freest elections behind the Iron Curtain in 42 years.
″For the first time, we’re voting with pleasure,″ Ada Cichy said as she stood in the entry hall of the consulate here.
Polish diplomatic and contract workers and immigrants who remain Polish citizens also flocked to consulates in New York and Washington to vote a day in advance of Sunday’s elections in Poland.
The elections are the result of an agreement between the communist government and the Solidarity trade union, in which Solidarity was given legal status after a seven-year ban.
Ballots from about 600,000 Poles abroad will be counted in a single district in the middle of Warsaw, which has only 140,000 eligible voters.
″Ninety percent of the people are going to vote for Solidarity,″ Cichy said in Chicago. ″The party doesn’t stand a chance.″
The U.S. results are not expected to be known until Sunday morning at the earliest.
Hundreds of people here greeted each other in Polish on Saturday as they waited in long lines under gray skies and frequent heavy rains. A nearby bus shelter was plastered with posters for Solidarity candidates.
″These are our history’s first really democratic elections,″ said Vice Consul Robert Michniewicz. ″The voters are excited and really happy. I’ve seen a lot of smiles on their faces.″
About 4,000 people had turned out by early evening, a sharp contrast to previous elections that typically drew only about 200 people, Michniewicz said.
Balloting was slowed by the small number of poll workers and a shortage of voting booths. Crowds of people sat in stairways and around coffee tables to mark paper ballots.
In New York, hundreds of people crowded into the ornate consulate on Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan.
″This is pure satisfaction,″ said Jack Piotrowski of Butler, N.J. who emigrated from Poland six years ago. ″If it was the old kind of voting, I wouldn’t be here.″
By early evening, 5,000 people had voted, said Mieczyslaw Gorajewski, an official poll watcher there.
Busloads of people arrived from Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and hundreds came by subway. A group of about 50 from Boston marched up a Madison Avenue with a Solidarity flag.
″It is amazing - a Polish miracle,″ said Tomasz Zalewski of Brooklyn, an official poll watcher for Solidarity.
In Washington, where few Poles live, about 175 people had turned up by noon, said an embassy official who declined to give his name.
Not everybody supported the balloting. Outside the Chicago consulate, Jozef Losiak handed out pamphlets urging a boycott.
″These are not truly democratic elections,″ Losiak said. ″For the first time, the Communist government is going to have a moral legitimacy in the eyes of the people. We only want 100 percent free elections.″
Under the pact between the opposition and the government, 65 percent of the seats in Poland’s 460-member lower house, or Sejm, are reserved for the Communist Party and its allies. Balloting for the new Senate is wide open.
Others in the United States urged fellow Poles to vote. Wojtek Sawa, the host of a Polish-language radio program in Chicago, handed out lists of the names of Solidarity-backed candidates. Sawa called a boycott ″ridiculous.″
″For the first time in 45 years, the people have a chance to gain some ground,″ he said. ″By not taking advantage of that, we wouldn’t gain anything.″