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Polish parliamentary election, 1989

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Polish parliamentary election, 1989

Polish legislative election, 1989
1985 ←
4 June 1989 (1989-06-04) (first round) 18 June 1989 (1989-06-18) (second round)
→ 1991

All 460 seats in the Sejm
  Majority party Minority party Third party
Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski Lech Wałęsa Roman Malinowski
Party PZPR
Leader since October 18, 1981 1988 1981
Last election 255 seats, 55.4% 0 117 seats, 25.4%
Seats won 173 161 76
Seat change Decrease72 Increase161 Decrease41
Percentage 37.6% 35% 16.5%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Tadeusz Witold Młyńczak Ryszard Reiff Kazimierz Morawski
Party Democratic Party
Leader since 1976 1979 1989
Last election 39, 8.5% 0 0
Seats won 27 10 8
Seat change Decrease12 +10 Increase8
Percentage 5.8% 2.1% 1.7%

The Polish legislative election of 1989 was the tenth election to the Sejm, the parliament of the People's Republic of Poland, and eleventh in Communist Poland. It took place on 4 June (first round) and 18 June (second round).

Not all parliamentary seats were freely contested, but the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition in the freely contested races paved the way to the fall of Communism in Poland. In the election's aftermath, Poland became the first country of the Eastern Bloc in which democratically elected representatives gained real power.[1] 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.[2][3][4]


In May and August 1988 a massive waves of workers' strikes broke out in the People’s Republic of Poland. 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.[5] As a result, later that year, the regime decided to negotiate with the opposition,[6] 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.[7]

An agreement was reached by the Communist Party and the Solidarity (Solidarność in Polish) movement during the Round Table negotiations. The final agreement was signed on 4 April 1989. 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. Solidarność became a legitimate and legal political party: On 7 April 1989 the existing parliament (Sejm) changed the election law and changed the constitution (through the April Novelization), and on 17 April, the Supreme Court of Poland reregistered Solidarity.[8][9] Soon after the agreement was signed, Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa travelled to Rome, to be received by the Polish Pope John Paul II.[9]

Perhaps the most important decision reached during the Round Table talks was to allow for partially free elections to be held in Poland.[10] (A fully free election was promised "in four years").[9] 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.[10] The remaining 65% of the seats were reserved for the Communist Party (Polish United Workers' Party, PZPR) and its satellite parties (United People's Party, ZSL, Democratic Party, SD and communist-aligned tiny Catholic parties).[10] In addition, all 35 seats elected via the country-wide list were reserved for the Party's candidates provided they gained a certain quota of support.[9] 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: inconclusive.[11] After all, Poland had not had a truly fair election since the 1920s, so there was little precedent to go by.[9] The last contested elections were those of 1947, in the midst of communist-orchestrated violent oppression and electoral fraud.[10] 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.[10] While censorship was still in force, the opposition was allowed to campaign much more freely then before, with a new newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, and reactivation of Tygodnik Solidarność.[8] Solidarity was also given access to televised media, being allocated 23% of electoral time on Polish Television.[12] There were also no restrictions on financial support.[10] 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.[11] 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.[11] In such a situation, both sides faced another unfamiliar aspect - the electoral campaign.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[10]


The turnout was surprisingly low: only 62.7% in the first round and 25% in the second.[13]

Results of Sejm elections:[14]

Party Seats
Polish United Workers' Party 173
Solidarity Citizens' Committee 161
United People's Party 76
Democratic Party 27
PAX Association 10
Christian-Social Union 8
Polish Catholic-Social Association 5

Results of Senate elections:[14]

Party Seats
Solidarity Citizens' Committee 99
Independents 1

The outcome was a major surprise to both the Party and Solidarity.[15] Solidarity's electoral campaign has been much more successful than expected.[16] 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.[13] Out of 100 seats in the Senate, 99 were won by Solidarity and 1 by an independent candidate.[13] 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 United People's Party (ZSL) satellite party candidate in the first round; none of the others attained the required 50% majority.[9] The communist regained some seats during the second round, but the first one was highly humiliating to them;[14] the psychological impact of it has been called "shattering".[9] Norman Davies estimates that the election showed real support for the communists in Poland to be between 3 and 4%.[9] Altogether, out of 161 seats eligible, Solidarity took 160.[13] 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.[9]

While Solidarity managed to secure the 35% of seats available to it, the remaining 65% was divided between the communist party and its satellite parties (37.6% to PZPR, 16.5% to ZSL, 5.8% to SD, with 4% distributed between newly created small communist-aligned Catholic parties, PAX and UChS).[10] The distribution of seats among the PZPR and its allies was known beforehand.[10]

The first round of voting took place on the same day that the Chinese communist government unleashed the Tiananmen Square massacre.[9]


The communist party, the Polish United Workers' Party, felt secure with the 65% of the votes it was guaranteed for itself and its traditional allies.[13] 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.[13] 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)[14] to switch sides, and create a coalition government with Solidarity.[13] PZPR, which had 37.6% of the seats, suddenly found itself in 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, our prime minister".[1][9][13][14]

The elected parliament would be known as the Contract Sejm,[13] 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 the 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.[1][2][3][4]

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.[17]

See also


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