Poland's upcoming presidential elections are raising political hackles and dividing the population, but their outcome will not affect the pace or direction of government reforms, Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy said this week.

"We're a young democracy, and there is a lot of emotion accompanying the elections," he said, admitting political opposition to his left-wing government is stirring a divisive public debate and labor unrest.But, speaking to The Journal of Commerce in an interview Monday, Mr. Oleksy said even though "emotions are running high, Polish democracy is stable, and the elections won't change our reforms and restructuring."

Moreover, he said, with the economic reforms largely completed, and with close to 60 percent of the gross domestic product generated by the private sector, "the government does not have all that much influence over the economy."

Polish political observers predict none of the four leading candidates is likely to obtain the majority needed for election in the first round of balloting, to be held Nov. 5. They anticipate the key contest in the second round will be between the incumbent President Lech Walesa and his main challenger, Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the formerly communist Left Democratic Alliance (SLD).

Mr. Oleksy was SLD's parliamentary leader before he became prime minister last March.

President Walesa, who had been losing popular support throughout much of his first term, has staged a remarkable comeback lately, running in the latest opinion polls neck and neck with Mr. Kwasniewski.

Mr. Oleksy dismissed the accusations by the opposition Solidarity party that his government is dragging its feet on economic reforms as "pre-election rhetoric," and said privatization remains on top of the agenda.

The government anticipates the voucher privatization of more than 500 companies, which got under way earlier this spring, will net the treasury at least $1 billion in proceeds this year and help it to foot the bill for the huge social program. But, privatization of the key industries, including telecommunications, energy and banking, will not begin until next year.

Explaining his party's growing political acceptance, especially among young voters, Mr. Oleksy said, "what we are offering is a pragmatic economic reform with people in mind, not political dogmas."

He said the cornerstone of his government's foreign policy is membership in the European Union, possibly before the end of the century, and in NATO.