WARSAW, MAY 30 -- Solidarity overwhelmed all other political parties in Poland's first completely free elections in a half-century, according to results announced here tonight.
But its huge victory was tarnished by poor voter turnout and by the growing realization that multi-party politics have not begun to emerge here in the year since the Communists were driven from power.
In elections that marked the return of real power to local governments after four decades of centralized Communist rule, Solidarity was projected to win about 41 percent of the contested council seats, according to electoral commissioner Jerzy Stepien.
Only one other political party, the Peasants Party, won more than 7 percent of the seats. No other party won even 2 percent of the seats.
As of tonight, only 38 percent of the vote for 52,000 seats in more than 2,000 local districts had been counted. But the electoral commission said the vote tally thus far is a representative national sample.
The results mean that no party -- either the reformed communists, the revived pre-war parties or new nationalist and Christian groupings -- has managed in the past year to make a significant impression on Polish voters. For example, the combined number of seats won by the three reform-communist parties amounted to less than 1 percent of the seats contested.
Solidarity, which challenged the long-ruling Communists for a decade and which last year put together the first non-Communist government in the Soviet Bloc, appears to be the only political name Poles recognize and trust. As the only game in town, Solidarity has become, in the words of the government daily Rzeczpospolita, "bulky, but increasingly divided."
The major division arises from the fact that Solidarity remains both a political movement and a labor union. In all the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, there is nothing quite like it.
Some of its leading figures -- such as Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, parliamentary leader Bronislaw Geremek and Labor Minister Jacek Kuron -- now run the government. But their government is championing a radical free-market program that is slashing living standards and eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In the face of this, the labor union part of Solidarity -- led by the movement's most celebrated figure, Lech Walesa -- has begun to demand more protection for workers. Walesa this week headed off a potential disastrous rail strike, but he emphasized that the wage demands of the strikers were just.
A tangible result of the split in Solidarity can be seen most afternoons on the floor of the Sejm, or parliament. There, a centerpiece of the government's reform effort -- a bill on privatization of state industry -- is being amended again and again. Twelve times, at last count.
The government's economists want to sell off state property to anyone -- including foreigners -- on a first-come, first-served basis. But a powerful left-leaning wing in the Solidarity parliamentary caucus insists on giving factory workers the first crack at owning their plants.
Walesa and a number of leaders have argued that, in the normal course of events, Solidarity should split along ideological lines similar to those in much of Western Europe.
They have predicted that a left-of-center group would emerge, somewhat along the lines of Germany's Social Democrats. The party would concern itself with defending worker interests and guaranteeing social benefits. Its natural opponent would be a right-of-center, Christian Democratic-style party that would be more focused on economic recovery and freeing up the market.
So far, however, both of these groups cling tenaciously to a security blanket named Solidarity. As a result, the political evolution of Poland appears to have fallen well behind that of its westward-looking neighbors in the former East Bloc, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The allure of the Solidarity name, however, is clearly not what it once was. Fifty-eight percent of eligible Polish voters chose not to vote for anybody on Sunday.
The turnout marked a dramatic decline in voter interest as compared to last June. Then, in parliamentary elections that led to the fall of the Communists, 62 percent of eligible voters turned out. They gave Solidarity candidates virtually every seat that was available under the quasi-democratic rules in force at the time.
Polish politicians and pundits of every stripe were surprised and disheartened by the low turnout this time. Observers here seem to agree Poles are frustrated by high prices and poor wages. Purchasing power has fallen by 40 percent in five months while wages are frozen.
But an added frustration is the tentativeness with which the Solidarity government has chosen to deal with Communist holdovers. Many Poles in Warsaw and outlying towns have complained that the same faces remain in most government jobs, and there have been calls for punishment of those responsible for ruining the economy and for human-rights abuses. However, the local elections should help alleviate this concern, as tens of thousands of holdovers will now be flushed out of government.