chapter  4
23 Pages

The Polish Diet since 1989: from fragmentation to consolidation

ByJACEK WASILEWSKI, WITOLD BETKIEWICZ

Brief history of the Polish parliament Polish historiography dates the beginning of the Polish parliament (Sejm) at 1493. Throughout most of its 300-year existence, the noble Sejm was a powerful institution, securing the political dominance of the nobility over other estates and the king. The last Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was convoked in 1793. Two years later Poland lost its independence and vanished as a sovereign state from the maps of Europe for over 120 years (Działocha 1997). The political system of the country was revived in November 1918. Free elections took part as early as January 1919. The elections for the Constitutional Diet showed the balance between the main political powers. The victorious right parties won 34 percent of the seats. The strongest among them was National Democracy, characterized by national-Catholic rhetoric and hostile attitudes toward national minorities and the West. The center parties with 31 percent of seats were represented mainly by Agrarians. The left, represented by the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and the radical Peasant Party gained 30 percent of seats. The Communists, who called for a boycott of the elections, excluded themselves from the political scene. The political minorities, making up almost one-third of the population were not politically organized and won only a few seats. The main achievement of the Constitutional Diet was the March 1921 Constitution of the Polish Republic. It proclaimed a democratic state with a legislative power of a two-chamber parliament. The weakness of the Constitutional Diet was its inability to create a stable governing majority. Most of the Polish political parties were formed at the turn of the century as organizations fighting for independence and not those ready to govern in a sovereign and democratic state. A similar situation would occur in the years 1989 to 1991. Elections to the parliament of the first term took place in November 1922. Deputies elected from the minorities’ lists comprised 20 percent of the chamber, which in a state with a very strong nationalist ideology was proof of a fair political competition. The balance of power between the national and Christian Democratic Right, Agrarian center, and Socialist and radical peasant left was maintained. The illegal Communist Party did not take part in the election, although it did participate through other lists, winning several seats.