WARSAW -- Lech Walesa, the founder of the Polish Solidarity movement, and his longtime friend Tadeusz Mazowiecki once had a lot in common. They pledged their sacred honor to forge an anti-communist movement that would topple the government of Poland. Walesa was the front man -- the charismatic populist. Mazowiecki was the brains behind the movement, who with others formed Walesa's winning strategy.

It was only natural that when Walesa looked around more than a year ago for Poland's first non-communist prime minister in 45 years, he asked his friend Mazowiecki to take the job.

But now the two men are Poles apart. And because of the distance separating them, the Polish people have a clear choice in the presidential election today, Nov. 25., between Walesa and Mazowiecki. Walesa is considered the most likely to win but probably not on the first ballot. Six candidates are running, and one must win 51 percent of the vote to be seated.

Our Polish political sources expect Walesa to pull ahead of Mazowiecki in the first vote, but not enough for a majority. They also say that a third of the population was uncommitted before going to the polls.

We recently met with each of the one-time friends and talked about why they went their separate ways.

Walesa summed up the difference between them. "Who is the better master? A chess master or a boxing master?" he asked.

Walesa is the boxer -- a strong, nationalistic worker-leader who believes his people can pull themselves up from the economic devastation of communism by sheer willpower and patriotism. He will attract the common person in the voting, the laborer and the farmer.

His impatient clarion call is for a swifter economic and political transformation of Poland. He thinks Mazowiecki is moving too slowly, not dismantling state-owned enterprises fast enough, not promoting competition strongly enough.

Walesa wants the presidency to swing "a sharp ax" against hundreds of thousands of communist bureaucrats left in place by the Mazowiecki government. Most important, Walesa does not feel that Mazowiecki has the charm, the vision or the populist flair to take Poland through the difficult transition ahead.

Full of good humor, Walesa warned us when we told him we were on our way to meet Mazowiecki, "I'm sorry for you. Let me explain -- this is no joke. He's very tired as prime minister, very tired, very busy. He wants to do all he can. He has lots of troubles. And this is why I feel sorry for you. There will be no jokes like here with Walesa. It will be a serious interview."

Walesa was right. Mazowiecki appeared exhausted and world-weary. He spoke in somber, sober tones tinged with sadness over the distance that yawned between him and his old friend.

"Lech is definitely a leader on a large scale," Mazowiecki said. "No one can deny his part in what happened in Poland. We have all worked for this position of his. Right now there are differences showing up. But that happens in history. I would not want these differences to become hostility."

We asked Mazowiecki if he could work with Walesa should his old friend become president. "That depends on whether or not there is an objective guarantee of respecting mutual competencies," he said carefully -- his way of saying that the distance between them grew when Walesa got too big for his britches and began issuing orders to Mazowiecki. As Mazowiecki put it, he grew tired of "paying homage to this lord."

Mazowiecki leads the intellectuals and entrepreneurs of the Solidarity movement -- the people Walesa calls "the egghead bastion."

Mazowiecki indeed plots the economic transformation of Poland like a chessmaster. He also believes Parliament should have a greater voice in the affairs of state than he thinks Walesa would allow. And he is opposed to the "witch hunt" against 2 million communists still working in government and state-owned enterprises.

The faction that Mazowiecki leads is worried that Walesa the president would be Walesa the monarch who would use dangerous nationalistic sentiments to mobilize Poles. Unwittingly, Walesa would bring out the worst of nationalism -- antisemitism and other ethnocentric strains in Polish society.

Almost whimsically, Mazowiecki wished aloud that he and Walesa had not split. "This is the price of democracy," he said. "These are the natural processes accompanying the birth of a democratic political life. All the same, it would be much better if this process weren't happening now, if the divisions were not so sharp and so deep."