Polish legislative election 1989

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The Polish legislative election of 1989 was the tenth election to the Sejm, the parliament of the Polish People's Republic, and the first election to the recreated Senate of Poland. The first round took place on 4 June, right after the 1989 June 4th Beijing Tiananmen Square massacre in China, with a second round on 18 June. It was the closest thing to a free election in the country since 1928, and the first since the Communist Polish United Workers Party abandoned its monopoly of power in April.

Not all parliamentary seats were contested, but the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition in the freely contested races paved the way to the fall of Communism in Poland. Solidarity swept all of the freely contested seats in the Sejm, and all but one seat in the entirely freely-contested Senate. In the election's aftermath, Poland became the first country of the Eastern Bloc in which democratically elected representatives gained real power. Although the elections were not entirely democratic, they paved the way for creation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet and a peaceful transition to democracy, both in Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, which was confirmed after the Polish parliamentary elections of 1991.


In May and August 1988 massive waves of workers' strikes broke out in the Polish People's Republic. The strikes, as well as street demonstrations, continued throughout spring and summer, ending in early September 1988. These actions shook the Communist regime of the country to such an extent, that it was forced to begin talking about recognising Solidarity, an "unofficial" labor union that subsequently grew into a political movement. As a result, later that year, the regime decided to negotiate with the opposition, which opened way for the 1989 Round Table Agreement.The second, much bigger wave of strikes (August 1988) surprised both the government, and top leaders of Solidarity, who were not expecting actions of such intensity. These strikes were mostly organized by local activists, who had no idea that their leaders from Warsaw had already started secret negotiations with the Communists.

An agreement was reached by the Communist Polish United Workers' Party, (PZPR) and the Solidarity (Solidarność in Polish) movement during the Round Table negotiations. The final agreement was signed on 4 April 1989, formally ending Communist rule in Poland. As a result, real political power was to be vested in a newly created bicameral legislature (Sejm, with recreated Senate), and it also recreated the office of president who would be the chief executive. Solidarity became a legitimate and legal political party: On 7 April 1989 the existing parliament changed the election law and changed the constitution (through the April Novelization), and on 17 April, the Supreme Court of Poland reregistered Solidarity. Soon after the agreement was signed, Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa travelled to Rome, to be received by the Polish Pope John Paul II.

Perhaps the most important decision reached during the Round Table talks was to allow for partially free elections to be held in Poland. (A fully free election was promised "in four years"). All seats to the newly recreated Senate of Poland were to be elected democratically, as were 161 seats (35 percent of the total) in Sejm. The remaining 65% of the seats were reserved for the PZPR and its satellite parties (United People's Party, ZSL, Democratic Party, SD and communist-aligned Catholic parties). In addition, all 35 seats elected via the country-wide list were reserved for the PZPR's candidates provided they gained a certain quota of support. This was to ensure that the most notable leaders of the Party were elected.

The outcome of the election was largely unpredictable, pre-electoral opinion polls were inconclusive. After all, Poland had not had a truly fair election since the 1920s, so there was little precedent to go by. The last contested elections were those of 1947, in the midst of communist-orchestrated violent oppression and electoral fraud. This time, there would be open and relatively fair competition for many seats, both between communist and Solidarity candidates, and in some cases, between various communist candidates. While censorship was still in force, the opposition was allowed to campaign much more freely than before, with a new newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, and reactivation of Tygodnik Solidarność. Solidarity was also given access to televised media, being allocated 23% of electoral time on Polish Television. There were also no restrictions on financial support. It was clear that the Communists were unpopular, but there were no hard numbers as to how low support for them would actually fall. A rather flawed survey carried in April, days after the Round Table Agreement was signed, suggested that over 60% of the surveyed wanted Solidarity to cooperate with the government. Another survey a week later, about the Senate elections, showed that 48% of the surveyed supported the opposition, 14% the communist government, and 38% were undecided. In such a situation, both sides faced another unfamiliar aspect - the electoral campaign. The communists knew they were guaranteed 65% of the seats, and expected a difficult but winnable contest; in fact they were concerned about a possibility of "winning too much" - they desired some opposition, which would serve to legitimize their government on the internal and international levels. The communist government still had control over most major media outlets and employed sports and television celebrities as candidates, as well as successful local personalities and businesspeople. Some members of the opposition were worried that such tactics would gain enough votes from the less educated segment of the population to give the communists the legitimacy that they craved. Only a few days before June 4 the party Central Committee was discussing the possible reaction of the Western world should Solidarity not win a single seat. At the same time the Solidarity leaders were trying to prepare some set of rules for the non-party MPs in a communist-dominated parliament, as it was expected that the Solidarity would win not more than 20 seats. Solidarity was also complaining that the way electoral districts were drawn was not favourable towards it.


The turnout was surprisingly low: only 62.7% in the first round and 25% in the second.

The outcome was a major surprise to both the Party and Solidarity. Solidarity's electoral campaign has been much more successful than expected. The election of June 4, 1989 (and the second round of June 18) brought a landslide victory to Solidarność: 99% of all the seats in the Senate and all of the possible seats in the Sejm. Out of 100 seats in the Senate, 99 were won by Solidarity and 1 by an independent candidate. Out of 35 seats in the country-wide list for which Solidarity was not allowed to compete, only one was gained by the Party candidate (Adam Zieliński) and one by a ZSL satellite party candidate in the first round; none of the others attained the required 50% majority. The communist regained some seats during the second round, but the first one was highly humiliating to them; the psychological impact of it has been called "shattering". Norman Davies estimated that the election showed real support for the communists in Poland to be between 3 and 4%, however, according to the results of the election, government-supported candidates competing against Solidarity members gained 10 to 40% of votes in total, varying by constituency. Altogether, out of 161 seats eligible, Solidarity took 160. The single Solidarity candidate not to be elected attributed his failure to missing an opportunity to take an electoral photo with Wałęsa, something all the other Solidarity candidates were able to do.

While Solidarity managed to secure the 35% of seats available to it, the remaining 65% was divided between the PZPR and its satellite parties (37.6% to PZPR, 16.5% to ZSL, 5.8% to SD, with 4% distributed between small communist-aligned Catholic parties, PAX and UChS). The distribution of seats among the PZPR and its allies was known beforehand.

The first round of voting took place on the same day that the Chinese communist government unleashed the Tiananmen Square massacre.


The PZPR felt secure with the 65% of the votes it was guaranteed for itself and its traditional allies. On July 19, the Sejm voted PZPR secretary, general Wojciech Jaruzelski, for president, but his candidature passed by only one vote; in turn he nominated general Czesław Kiszczak for prime minister; they intended for Solidarity to be given a few token positions for appearances. The Solidarity leaders, however, managed to convince the PZPR's longtime satellite parties, the ZSL and SD (some of whom already owed a debt to Solidarity for endorsing them during the second round) to switch sides, and create a coalition government with Solidarity. PZPR, which had 37.6% of the seats, suddenly found itself in a minority. Abandoned by Moscow, Kiszczak resigned on August 14. With no choice but to appoint a Solidarity member as prime minister, on August 24 Jaruzelski appointed Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki as head of a Solidarity-led coalition, ushering a brief period described as "Your president, small our prime minister".

The elected parliament would be known as the Contract Sejm, from the "contract" between the Solidarity and the communist government which made it possible in the first place.

Although the elections were not entirely democratic, they paved the way for creation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet and a peaceful transition to democracy, which was confirmed after the Polish presidential election of 1990 (in which Lech Wałęsa replaced Jaruzelski as president) and the Polish parliamentary elections of 1991.

On the international level, this election is seen as one of the major milestones in the fall of communism ("Autumn of Nations") in Central and Eastern Europe.

Solidarity, however, did not stay in power long, quickly fracturing and replaced by other parties. In this context, the 1989 elections are often seen as the vote against communism, rather than for Solidarity.


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Sources: wikipedia.org


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