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1989 Polish legislative election

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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.

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
Turnout62.7% (First round)
25% (Second round)
  Majority party Minority party
  Wojciech Jaruzelski.jpg Lech Wałęsa prezydent RP.jpg
Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski Lech Wałęsa
Party PZPR Solidarity
Leader since October 18, 1981 1988
Last election 255 seats, 55.4% Outlawed
Seats won 173 161
Seat change Decrease 72 Increase 161
Percentage 37.6% 35.0%

  Third party Fourth party
Leader Roman Malinowski Tadeusz Witold Młyńczak
Party ZSL SD
Leader since 1981 1976
Last election 117 seats, 25.4% 39 seats, 8.5%
Seats won 76 27
Seat change Decrease 41 Decrease 12
Percentage 16.5% 5.8%

  Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Kazimierz Morawski
Party PAX UChS
Leader since 1989
Last election
Seats won 10 8
Seat change Increase 10 Increase 8
Percentage 2.1% 1.7%

Wybory 1989 Solidarnosc wyniki okregi.png
Results by constituency

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. It swept all of the freely contested seats in the Sejm, and all except for 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.[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 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 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 (Polish: Solidarność) 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 Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) and the Solidarity movement during the Round Table negotiations. The final agreement was signed on 4 April 1989, 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.[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 PZPR and its satellite parties (United People's Party (ZSL), Alliance of Democrats (SD), and communist-aligned Catholic parties).[10] 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.[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 were 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 than 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 party 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]

"High Noon, June 4, 1989."
Solidarity Citizens' Committee election poster by Tomasz Sarnecki.

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 was much more successful than expected.[16] It won a landslide victory: all except for one of the 100 seats in the Senate, and all of the contested 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 ZSL satellite party candidate in the first round; none of the others attained the required 50% majority.[9] The communists 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 estimated that the election showed real support for the communists in Poland to be between 3 and 4%,[9] 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.[17] 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 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).[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 magnitude of the Communist alliance's defeat was so great that there were initially fears that either the PZPR or the Kremlin would annul the results. However, PZPR general secretary Wojciech Jaruzelski allowed the results to stand.[18] He and his colleagues felt secure with the 65% of the votes it was guaranteed for itself and its traditional allies.[13] On July 19, the Sejm elected Jaruzelski president 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] However, this was brought undone when Solidarity's leaders convinced 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 support a Solidarity-led coalition government.[13] The 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, 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 Mazowiecki's cabinet and a peaceful transition to democracy, which was confirmed after the presidential election of 1990 (in which Lech Wałęsa replaced Jaruzelski as president) and the 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.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Ronald J. Hill (1 July 1992). Beyond Stalinism: Communist political evolution. Psychology Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-7146-3463-0. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b Geoffrey Pridham (1994). Democratization in Eastern Europe: domestic and international perspectives. Psychology Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-415-11063-1. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  3. ^ a b Olav Njølstad (2004). The last decade of the Cold War: from conflict escalation to conflict transformation. Psychology Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-7146-8539-7. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b Atsuko Ichijō; Willfried Spohn (2005). Entangled identities: nations and Europe. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-7546-4372-2. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  5. ^ Andy Zebrowski Turning the tables?
  6. ^ Pushing back the curtain. BBC News, Poland 1984 - 1988
  7. ^ Andrzej Grajewski, Second August
  8. ^ a b (in Polish) Wojciech Roszkowski: Najnowsza historia Polski 1980–2002. Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2003, ISBN 83-7391-086-7 p.102
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Norman Davies (May 2005). God's Playground: 1795 to the present. Columbia University Press. pp. 503–504. ISBN 978-0-231-12819-3. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marjorie Castle (28 November 2005). Triggering Communism's Collapse: Perceptions and Power in Poland's Transition. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 146–148. ISBN 978-0-7425-2515-3. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d e Marjorie Castle (28 November 2005). Triggering Communism's Collapse: Perceptions and Power in Poland's Transition. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 154–115. ISBN 978-0-7425-2515-3. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  12. ^ a b Marjorie Castle (28 November 2005). Triggering Communism's Collapse: Perceptions and Power in Poland's Transition. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 168–169. ISBN 978-0-7425-2515-3. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Piotr Wróbel, Rebuilding Democracy in Poland, 1989-2004, in M. B. B. Biskupski; James S. Pula; Piotr J. Wrobel (25 May 2010). The Origins of Modern Polish Democracy. Ohio University Press. pp. 273–275. ISBN 978-0-8214-1892-5. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  14. ^ a b c d e George Sanford (2002). Democratic government in Poland: constitutional politics since 1989. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-333-77475-5. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  15. ^ Samuel P. Huntington (1991). The third wave: democratization in the late twentieth century. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8061-2516-9. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  16. ^ Marjorie Castle (28 November 2005). Triggering Communism's Collapse: Perceptions and Power in Poland's Transition. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-7425-2515-3. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  17. ^ Polish National Electoral Commission report on the results of 4 June 1989 legislative election, published on 8 June 1989, Retrieved 23 September 2015
  18. ^ Sarotte, Mary Elise. The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall. New York City: Basic Books. p. 23. ISBN 9780465064946.
  19. ^ Arista Maria Cirtautas (1997). The Polish solidarity movement: revolution, democracy and natural rights. Psychology Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-415-16940-0. Retrieved 4 June 2011.