/Making democracy in Poland

Making democracy in Poland

A Farce or a National Drama?

Presented at the Regional Institute of Public Administration
Lvov-Brzuchowice, Ukraine

6th June 2006


There is a widespread opinion that Poland represents a glorious case of a country which, by virtue of her people had given other nations within the communist empire an example how to get freedom and successfully pass to democracy. An infinite amount of praises and compliments had been publicly expressed to the Poles for their historical achievement. It is often being said that the triumph of "Solidarność" in Poland, the great wisdom of the so-called Round Table Agreement, opened the road to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the general collapse of the Soviet Union and to freedom for all the countries concerned. At the very end of August 2005 many heads of states, including the Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko came to Gdańsk to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Birth of Solidarność and paid homage to her magnificent contribution to democratic development in this part of the world.

And Doubts

There are, however, some reasons to believe that the historical truth may not be so flattering to the Poles and that a more sober view should be taken with respect to those historical events and phenomena. First of all there are some doubts as to what extent the origin and lightening spread of Solidarność should be regarded as a genuine spontaneous social movement or how far the communist regime was able to control and manipulate it. There were at the beginning three major industrial centers, where the strikes of workers led to the famous Gdańsk Agreements. These were strikes in the shipyards of Gdańsk, in the shipyards of Szczecin and the third major center was the coal basin of Jastrzębie Zdrój in the heart of Silesian mines. It is rather ironic but now more or less evident that at the heads of those strike committees and chief signatories of the so-called Agreements of Gdańsk, Szczecin and Jastrzębie Zdrój were men, one way or the other, collaborating with the secret police (SB). This is a very painful knowledge for the Poles especially as one of those signatories had soon to become the Nobel Prize Winner and, subsequently, elected the President of Poland.  There is also mounting evidence nowadays that quite a number of other members of the chief governing bodies of the registered and legally recognized Solidarity Trade Unions were informers and collaborators of SB. There have been cases, in places where local workers were reluctant to organize local Solidarność structures that such structures were directly initiated and organized by the police agents, who were assuming leading position and infiltrated the ranks of the Union to the top. It is more or less clear what clever ideas were behind that activity. They were stated in a famous "Jerzy Urban's letter to Stanisław Kania". Jerzy Urban was at that time merely a well connected journalist and Stanisław Kania was the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Naturally, the letter was not public and its contents became known much later. Jerzy Urban formulated a proposal how the Solidarność crisis could be resolved. The proposal was precisely a scenario similar to the Round Table Agreement, which materialized some 8 years later. No wonder that the author of this letter had become a minister in the General Jaruzelski Government responsible for public relations.

Martial Law: a unavoidable step towards the Historical Compromise

Unfortunately, such a brilliant idea could not be executed at that time. The movement immediately had become elemental and took over the whole country, all factories, offices, schools, hospitals and over 10 million people registered as its members. Whatever crafty plans the regime might have had – towards the end of 1981 it was clear that it cannot be managed and directed to whatever direction.. Solidarność was developing and organizing itself in a democratic manner, her local, regional and country governing bodies were elected freely and the amount of secret agents and "moral authorities" placed in its' rank and file was clearly insufficient. The Martial Law was inevitable.

Martial Law – outlawing Solidarność, brutally suppressing the ensuing strikes all over the country and imprisoning the tens of thousands of trade union activists and sympathizers – is generally presented as another chapter of martyrdom of the Polish Nation. The curfews, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, soldiers and policemen patrolling night and day and searching the passersby – all such measures looked pretty serious and made a great impression on Poles and all over the world. However, nowadays one can afford looking at the events with less emotions and one has to admit that the regime's action was mainly psychological and rather soft. A few instances of spilling blood and lost of life looked rather like unintentional accidents or exceptional results of stupidity. Perhaps the regime understood that it had no strength to be able to wipe out such a big and widespread movement completely but it is more likely that the communist were determined to make use of the movement rather than getting rid of it. The only question remained how it could be used and how transform or, if you like, manipulate it to the communists benefit.

Laying grounds for a Round Table

Thus the following years were years of a strange and truly underground activity on both sides. On one side people of Solidarność tried to organize themselves and oppose the regime in all possible ways,  demanding that Solidarność was reinstated as a legal Trade Union and all the imprisoned people set free and reinstated in their jobs, on the other side all secret police forces worked hard to recognize and infiltrate the underground Solidarity networks. It has been recently disclosed that during the years between the Martial Law and the Round Table Agreement, i.e. between 1982 and 1989, about 100 thousand new collaborators and informers of the secret police had been recruited. Such an unflagging work was aimed at selecting and dividing Solidarność people: to the one side those wise, sensible people who might be willing to understand the historical necessity and compromise, to the other the less reasonable, uncompromising activists who should be gotten rid of. The latter task was made much easier by the fact that the Western Governments, the US first of all, were ready to assist the regime in this labor: they offered political asylum to the unwelcome element and many thousands of active members of Solidarność had easily obtained passport and one way tickets. Naturally, such a nice channel was also largely exploited by the secret police and many new agents had been sent and placed in the West under the Solidarność guise.

Also a contribution of the Catholic Church of Poland should not be overlooked. The most common view is that the Church offered a hideout for hunted Solidarity leaders and activists and an umbrella for the national resistance. This was certainly so and premises of the Church, all over Poland, served as places of meetings, lecturing and hiding for underground activities. There is however another side of the coin. The news of literally last days and weeks bring alarming evidence that many of the most trusted clergymen and spiritual patrons of Solidarność had been, in fact, long lasting collaborators and informers of the SB. A well-known priest from Kraków, Father Isakowicz-Zaleski, had announced that he would disclose 28 names of priests from the circle of his acquaintances, which he discovered in his files, who collaborated  with SB directly. Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, the Cardinal Archbiskop of Kraków intervened immediately and ordered the priest to shut his mouth and remain silent. He also forbade Father Isakowicz-Zaleski to conduct any research in this field and farther examining the secret police files.

When the ranks of Solidarność had been sufficiently purified preparations for the Round Table accelerated. Secret meetings with Lecha Wałęsa and his aids with General Jaruzelski and his envoys were taking place and a general amnesty for political prisoners and offenders was declared. From this point of view symptomatic was the fate of a famous underground leader of Solidarność Walcząca (The Fighting Solidarity), dr Kornel Morawiecki, a physicist from Wrocław.  After 6 years in hiding he was finally caught and imprisoned. However he was not jailed in Wrocław but immediately transferred to the HQ of the secret police in Warsaw. The gossip was spread that it was done in fear that he might have been rescued by his "fighting organization" but of course the reasons were more sensible. Such an uncompromising person like Kornel Morawiecki was the most unwelcome figure during the time of preparation for a grand opening and as long as he was in jail he was a serious obstacle to the process of a "national agreement". Therefore Dr. Morawiecki was frequently visited in jail by the top ranking delegates of the Polish Church Episcopate and "moral authorities" of the Solidarity opposition, like the later Prime Minister Jan Olszewski and others. They all tried to persuade him to emigrate and eventually succeded on the pretext that his deputy, Andrzej Kołodziej , by then also in jail, was in the need of an immediate cancer operation. They both got plane tickets to Rome. When after few days Kornel Morawiecki tried to fly back to Poland he had been detained at the airport and sent back without the right to return.

A broader perspective: perestroika

One must remember that all those events should be placed on a much broader picture of the whole Soviet block. In 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev announced his famous perestroika and the works of construction of the Common European House were under way. There can be little doubt that Poland and her Solidarność had to play a very significant role in such a construction. For historical and psychological reasons Poland was always a big obstacle to the development of communism and the Soviet Empire as a whole. There were good reasons to believe that Poland of all the countries was most unfit for communism and its ideas. Joseph Stalin himself is often quoted as having once said that "to impose communism on Poland would be like saddling a cow".  This was perhaps the main reason why Stalin had not consented to the wishes of the Polish communists and refused to incorporate Poland as another republic to the Soviet Union. The existence of the powerful Catholic Church and the widespread Solidarność movement were significant obstacles but at the same time presented important advantages for the communist block perestroika. If it were possible to come to terms with these two forces and reach an agreement then they might serve as a powerful buffer and reins to lead the kicking horse of Poland to a desired direction.

Reshaping Solidarność

According to the scenario described in the aforementioned Urban's letter to Kania the stubborn Poles needed a visible breakthrough to believe that the changes were real and genuine. Thus, in the middle of 1988, a wave of strikes ensued, which were to make impression that Solidarność is still a vigorous and powerful social force than can bring the regime to its knees. There can be little doubt that those strikes were largely provoked and that the workers in factories were reluctant to participate. Nevertheless, they received large publicity, quite out of proportion with the size of the happening. Especially active was the Radio Free Europe, which tried to portray it as a major political event. Lech Wałęsa and his associates used the strikes as a pretext to start a process of reorganizing the Solidarność Trade Union and to put it firmly under his command. So far the underground resistance was a rather loosely connected spontaneous activity of various, though very many, clandestine groups dispersed all over Poland. Those groups had their leaders and there existed various underground structures which the public opinion recognized as the legitimate bodies of the outlawed Union. By the Autumn of 1988 Lech Wałęsa started creation of new regional and local bodies and demanded that members of Solidarność renew their membership and registered under this new leadership. For many members of the Union, who had never given up their membership and faithfully adhered to it in spite of the hardships of Martial Law and through all those years such a decision was a great surprise and a shock. Not too many followed the order and most of the members of the Komisja Krajowa (The National Committee) – the supreme ruling body of the Union – openly opposed the step and organized the so-called Grupa Robocza Komisji Krajowej – and maintained that Lech Wałęsa, who was merely a chairman of the Komisja Krajowa, had no such authority to behave like that and that it was a major breach of the Union's Constitution.

The Magdalenka Deal and the Round Table Agreements

In spite of that the process of the Union transformation went on and in parallel with secret meetings, talks and negotiations between the representatives of the regime and of the Wałęsa's group and his associates. By September 1988 the meetings assumed a more formal, though still secret, character known later as the Magdalenka Talks. In these talks a group of altogether 42 men participated, the half of them represented the regime, 4 were representing the Church and only 4 were formally members of the Komisja Krajowa (incidentally, at least two of them are presently known as former collaborators of the secret police). Remaining participants were intellectuals and some other people connected with Solidarność, however the secret of selecting them to the team making decisions about the future fate of Poland remains largely a mystery.

After a series of the Magdalenka Talks, in February 1989, the historical Round Table had been set up. Over 500 people were invited to talk and make decisions about all the problems of the state and society. It is interesting to note that again, only very few who had the formal authority to represent the Solidarność Trade Union, i.e. members of its supreme ruling bodies, had been admitted to participate. At the head of the Union stood Komisja Krajowa with its elected 107 members and 21 members of the Central Controlling Commission (Komisja Rewizyjna), altogether 128 members of the central Solidarność governing body. Only 12 of them, i.e. less than 10% had been invited to the Round Table. The talks were given all possible publicity, tons of papers had been produced with vital proposals. It is quite obvious that all important decision had been already taken in Magdalenka and the Round Table was just a public masquerade and most of the written and solemnly signed documents were nothing more than a waste of paper. In fact only three decisions were really important and respected. These were: (1) the electoral law, which meant division of the parliamentary seats; (2)the way Solidarność was to return to public life and (3)post of the Head of State was to be reserved for General Jaruzelski.

Immediately after the RTA had been signed, Solidarność was registered at the Court in Warsaw and thus officially admitted to legal existence. Although it had been presented to the world as a victorious and triumphant return to the public scene it should be understood that it was a new organization with new constitution and ruling bodies. Although at its head stood the same Lech Wałęsa all the groups of people beforehand nominated by Wałęsa were recognized by the Court as legal governing bodies of the Union. Thus it is clear that all that registration and legalization procedure was nothing more than a deep purge of the old Solidarność rank and file.  The new purified Union could now serve as an umbrella for the historical process of the system transformation.

The day the communism collapsed

The date of the 4th of June 1989 had been proclaimed "the day that communism collapsed". It was the day of parliamentary elections. According to the deal made in Magdalenka 2/3 of the Sejm seats went to the candidates of the communist party  and 1/3 was offered for an open contest in various multi-mandate constituencies. 69 seats were reserved for the so-called Lista Krajowa, where only nominees of the party were presented. It may not be a wonder that in the mood of those days, with massive propaganda on the one side, that only the candidates photographed with Lech Wałęsa had been elected. Famous worldwide known film director Andrzej Wajda personally assisted the picture taking.

There was only one minor spoil of the jubilant victory. Against the expectations of signatories of the Magdalenka contract the Lista Krajowa had been totally rejected by the voters! Such an outcome had not been foreseen by the social engineers of Magdalenka and the Round Table and a great confusion ensued. The law constructed and passed in a hurry had no recipe for such an  outcome. The rejection of the Lista Krajowa was a painful blow to the prestige of all concerned and constituted a breach of the contract. However the engineers of democracy in Poland decided to bypass somehow the verdict of the people: they quickly changed the election rules, announced the second round of the election and introduced a new Lista Krajowa, which had to pass disregarding the amount of votes it could possible received.

Such an incident could have been considered minor and insignificant but it pointed out the importance of the election rules.

How important are election rules?

For people accustomed only to procedures of the "people's democracy", practiced in Poland ca. half a century, the issue of electoral system was totally alien and any knowledge of it was lacking on both sides: opposition and the regime alike. According to  Irish political scientists, Kenneth Benoit and Jacquelin Hayden of Dublin,  who had a chance to interview participants of the Round Table, on the so-called "Solidarity – opposition" side nobody paid any attention to this problem. The communist secretaries were equally ignorant but at least they have some professionals to their service. The experts managed to persuade gen. Kiszczak – the interior minister, and gen. Jaruzelski – the prime minister, that only Proportional Representation can save their skin. The generals did not trust their advisors completely so they made an experiment with a majoritarian election rule in the case of electing senators: only 1 of 100 senatorial seats went to the representatives of the communist establishment!  

These two experiments: one with "Lista Krajowa", emotionally rejected by voters and  the second with the Senate elections convinced the communist social engineers that they have nothing to look for if elections to the Lower House were conducted in majoritarian way. Their raison d'Etat were party lists and some sort of a Proportional Representation.

And they were right. It is enough to examine the results of the consecutive elections to Sejm from 1991 till 2005.

Elections 1991

391 MPs were elected in 37 electoral districts and 69 from national lists. Sizes of the districts varied from 7 to 17 seats. Winners from the district lists were selected according to the Hare-Niemeyer formula  and from the national list by modified Sainte-Lague formula. Only those parties  could participate in the distribution from national lists which passed the 5% threshold of votes.

43,20% of eligible voters took a part.


Komitet Wyborczy


% Głosów



Unia Demokratyczna

1 382 051




Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej

1 344 820




Wyborcza Akcja Katolicka

980 304




Porozumienie Obywatelskie Centrum

977 344




Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe – Sojusz Programowy

972 952




Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej

841 738




Kongres Liberalno-Demokratyczny

839 978




"Porozumienie Ludowe"

613 626




NSZZ "Solidarność"

566 553




Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa

367 106




"Chrześcijańska Demokracja"

265 179




Unia Polityki Realnej

253 024




"Solidarność Pracy"

230 975




Stronnictwo Demokratyczne

159 017




Mniejszość Niemiecka

132 059




Partia Chrześcijańskich Demokratów

125 314




Partia "X"

52 735




Ruch Demokratyczno-Społeczny

51 656




Ludowe Porozumienie Wyborcze "Piast" (Tarnów)

42 031




Ruch Autonomii Śląska

40 061




Krakowska Koalicja Solidarni z Prezydentem (Kraków)

27 586




Związek Podhalan (Nowy Sącz)

26 744




Polski Związek Zachodni

26 053




"Wielkopolsce i Polsce" (Poznań)

23 188




"Jedność Ludowa" (Bydgoszcz)

18 902




Komitet Wyborczy Prawosławnych (Białystok)

13 788




"Solidarność-80" (Szczecin)

12 769




Unia Wielkopolan okręgu woj. leszczyńskiego (Zielona Góra)

9 019




Sojusz Kobiet przeciw Trudnościom Życia (Kraków)

1 922




Pozostałe komitety

820 108


In such a way 29 committees got their candidates elected. An interesting thing about that Sejm, which existed only 2 years, was that during those years its members 275 times changed their party affiliation!

In such a way 29 committees got their candidates elected. An interesting thing about that Sejm, which existed only 2 years, was that during those years its members 275 times changed their party affiliation!

Elections 1993

The election rules had been changed. A threshold of 5% was introduced for party lists to participate in the distribution of seats and 8% for coalitions of parties. On top of that the formulae of Sainte-Lague and of Hare-Niemeyer had been replaced by the d'Hondt formula in both cases. Again the German Minority lists had been exempted from the threshold requirement.

The turn out was  52,08%.

The results were as follows:


Komitet Wyborczy


Procent Głosów



Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej

2 815 169




Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe

2 124 367




Unia Demokratyczna

1 460 957




Unia Pracy

1 005 004




Katolicki Komitet Wyborczy "Ojczyzna"

878 445




Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej

795 487




Bezpartyjny Blok Wspierania Reform

746 653



German Minorities got 4 seats although they have got about 50.000 votes of support. This is to be compared with the results of Katolicki Komitet Wyborczy :Ojczyzna", which received 17 times more votes and no seat in the parliament.

Comparing the resulats of 1991 and 1993 we notice that survivors are: SLD, UD, PSL, KPN and the German Minority, whereas the 25 other political parties and organizations disappeared. Two new parties entered the political scene instead: UP and BBWR.

Elections 1997

With the same election formula the results were as follows:


Komitet Wyborczy


% Głosów



Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność

4 427 373




Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej

3 551 224




Unia Wolności

1 749 518




Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe

956 184




Ruch Odbudowy Polski

727 072



Mniejszość Niemiecka, got 0,39% of votes and  2 mandates.

We can see that, by comparison with 1993, disappeared UD, UP, BBWR i KPN and in their place we have new parties: UW, AWS i ROP. The postcommunist parties: SLD and PSL survive.

Elections 2001

The election rules had been substantially changed:  the national lists had been abolished and the d'Hondt formula had been replaced by the Sainte-Lague method.


Komitet Wyborczy


% głosów



Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej-Unia Pracy

5 342 519




Platforma Obywatelska RP

1 651 099




Samoobrona Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej

1 327 624




Prawo i Sprawiedliwość

1 236 787




Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe

1 168 659




Liga Polskich Rodzin

1 025 148



Mniejszość Niemiecka, as before, got 0,36% of votes and 2 mandates.

As one can see AWS, UW and ROP had disappeared and  4 new parties enetered Sejm: PO, Samoobrona, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość and Liga Polskich Rodzin. Interesting again is the fact that AWS got 16 times more than the German Minority, and UW over 8 times more and none of those parties got any seat.

Elections 2005

The election law had been changed again and the d'Hondt formula, abolished in the previous elections, was reintroduced.


Komitet Wyborczy


Procent (zmiana)

Mandaty (zmiana)

% mandatów


Prawo i Sprawiedliwość

3 185 714







Platforma Obywatelska RP

2 849 259







Samoobrona Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej

1 347 355







Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej

1 335 257







Liga Polskich Rodzin

940 762







Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe

821 656







Socjaldemokracja Polska

459 380


The post-communists are beneficiaries of the election rules

The post-communists are beneficiaries of the election rules

Looking at these results we immediately notice that about a hundred of political parties managed to get their candidates in Sejm, but all these parties merely come and go and they are truly parties of one, sometimes of two political seasons. Only two parties enter Sejm in every election, SLD and PSL, and they are precisely these parties that overwhelming majority of the Polish people wanted to disappear: they are direct heirs to their communist predecessors, PZPR and ZSL. It is worth notice that in each Sejm we have a few representatives of the German Minority, in spite of the minute support they are getting in the elections.

Germans get to the Polish Parliament as a result of direct legal privileges written explicitly in the law. The Constitution of Poland requires elections to Sejm to be equal and proportional  and we can see that ca. 50 thousand of votes suffices to win 2 parliamentary seats for the German Minority, whereas over 17 times more votes is insufficient to get a single seat for a political party like Katolicki Komitet Wyborczy "Ojczyzna" in the lections of 1993, or AWS in the elections of 2001. However, the law does not formulate any privileges for the post-communist parties like SLD and PSL, so how come that they stay on the political scene like rocks whereas all other parties come and after a season or two – disappear?

Many reasons had been offered to the public to explain such an astonishing phenomenon. Let us point out just a few:

  1. Communist system produced a new man: homo sovieticus, a deprived, all demanding , lazy, passive and submissive being, which cannot adjust itself to the requirements of freedom. Therefore he is yearning for the good old days, when everything was free an available: employement, holidays, medical service, education and so on. These are the reasons that he prefers to vote for the "old boys" of the old regime.
  2. The so-called "shock therapy", which meant locking down inefficient and not profitable factories and businesses, what created hardship and difficult living conditions for millions of workers.
  3. Disillusion with democracy and its heroes, incapable of solving deep problems of society.
  4. Disagreements, quarrels and splits among the yesterday united freedom-fighters.
  5. Profound lack of experience on behave of the "solidarity" politicians.
  6. Lack of maturity on the side of the society as a whole: "we are just
    learning what democracy really means". 
  7. Mythical "union" on behave of the "old communist guard", who can unite themselves at the time of elections, whereas "we" – i.e. we, the Poles,  we are incapable of  working together and wherever there are two Poles there at least 3 political parties instantly emerge.

Undoubtedly all these factors have some impact on the development but it may be a wonder that in the public discussion the election system seems to have no significance at all! We of course notice that the election formula had been changed at nearly every election turn, which is not a small achievement and certainly deserving to be noted in the Guinnes Book of World Records, but the changes are being made virtually outside the public eye. A good example of this is the following: on 12th April 2001 a group of 57 MPs applied  to the Constitutional Tribunal complaining that the election law violates constitutional principles of equality and proportionality. Among the signatories of that motion were all the heroes of today's politics: Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the ruling party, present PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Ludwik Dorn, present minister of interior, and many others. The electoral law was quickly "amendet" by simply changing the d'Hondt formula do the formula of Sainte-Lague. Immediately after the elections of 2001 the law had been changed again and the formula of d'Hondt came back and none of the signatories sees anything wrong with it.

In reality it is the election system that has the main impact on the political situation and is responsible for the fact that Polish people six times went to the election polls and keep re-electing the very parties they wanted to remove from the political scene.

Why and how the PR serves the "old guards"?

Why is it so? Why the so-called proportional system favors political parties of the ancient regime and puts new emerging parties in disadvantage?

The main reason is pretty obvious and easy to understand: it is money and privileged position of the communist heirs. The electoral law, which essential elements are 5% (or more) threshold and large electoral constituencies of nearly a million voters in average makes a successful electoral campaign extremely expensive. According to various estimates the cost of winning a seat in Sejm is as high as one million PNL. Since every successful party has to overcome the 5% threshold on the national scale it means that at least a few tens of millions PNL are necessary to enter the political scene. But just getting a few seats in Sejm is certainly not enough for a party to function and play any role. It needs organizational structures and offices in every town and community. Such things nowadays are also very expensive. From the beginning only the so-called post-communist parties, i.e. SLD and PSL were in possession of wealth, property, money and organizational structures on the national scale.  All the other parties have to fight hard to get sufficient means to participate in the electoral competition.

Vicious circle of corruption

The Polish State, just like any other, incessantly fights corruption on all levels and public media are full of details on that fight and its results. In spite of that the reports of Transparency International place Poland systematically among the most corrupted countries of the world. There is no public discussion of what role in this picture of corruption plays the electoral system. There are, however, good reasons to believe that it plays a very significant role.

How political parties can meet demands of the electoral systems and where are they to find money sufficient for successful elections?  It is easy to see how the post-communist parties could solve the problem: they got the necessary means by inheritance. The Magdalenka Deal put them in a very privileged position, also in the course of the process of privatization of the economy of the state. But what about new parties of anti-communist opposition?

The electoral law puts parties which manage to get some parliamentary seats into a privileged position and they are entitled to compensation for their electoral campaign expenditures. But the law puts an upper limit on these expenditures and the limit is 1 PNL per one eligible voter, which means ca. 30 million PNL on the national scale. Naturally, a party may only receive back a part of this amount, in proportion to the number of parliamentary seats it happens to win. The actual cost of the victorious campaign is many times higher. So, from where comes the rest of money needed? It certainly cannot come from the membership fee because, for one, not too many people are ready to register and pay the fee, for second, the fee is usually very modest and far from matching the needs. For example: the present ruling party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) claims 12 thousand members and one cannot imagine that they may collect enough money – via their membership fee – to pay the costs of a successful campaign. SLD once claimed 70 thousand members, but it was long time ago and the party ranks are rather thinner with time. So, we should assume that all the political parties presently in Sejm may count at most 200 thousand members altogether. It is impossible to imagine that they could collect enough money. Therefore, willy-nilly, all political parties are forced to resort to more or less illegal ways of getting funds for their electoral campaigns.  

There are also other factors contributing to the picture of electoral corruption. The law requires long lists of candidates, which in every district have to contain at least as many names of candidates as the number of mandates allocated with that district. This number varies from 7 to 19, and the law allows for doubling this quota. The chance of winning a seat heavily depends on the candidate's position on such a list and usually it is candidate no. 1 that wins, and the chance quickly lowers with the increasing number. Thus there is a heavy fight for the first positions on the list. Probably all parties set a price for these position, in some cases they even announce what such a price may be.

Even more important factor is the role of the party leader who has the privilege to admit candidates and put them in any position on the list  he likes. This privilege is in fact the main source of his political power.

Lamentable consequences of the electoral system

If generating corruption is not enough there are many other aspects of the electoral system that poorly serve the state and society.

  1. Negative selection to the parliament and the government. As it is the party boss who decides on who may be a candidate and in what position on the list the chief quality of a successful candidate is necessarily loyalty, obedience and subordination. These certainly are not the qualities that society needs most in looking for persons capable of governing the country and making the law.
  2. Profound lack of accountability and individual responsibility of successful candidates. Since their success depends chiefly on the good will of the party bosses the candidates do not really feel responsible to their electorate.
  3. Voters do not see and understand the relation between their acts of voting and the results of the elections. All the formulae used in the so-called PR are complicated, non-transparent and not understandable. This causes frustration and withdrawal from participation in electoral procedures. Thus the turn out lowers from one election to another.
  4. Coalition governments. The system is incapable to produce stable responsible governments and inevitably  leads to exotic coalition governments. This means a weak state and chaotic system of governing. At present, 17 years after the Round Table Agreements,  Poland has her 12-th Prime Minister but an average time in office of other ministers is not longer than one year.

National Drama

Poland, after 17 years of political and social machinations since her proclaimed victory over communism, although still maintaining the appearances of a winner is rather more of a looser.

  1. Poland is a secondary member of the European Union of rather negligible influence on the European Union policies and affairs. The weakness of her governments and political class makes her European position weak and prevents her from playing any significant role.
  2. As a result of "transformation" Poland is nowadays efficiently militarily disarmed and her Army is hardly existing. At the same time Polish troops are fighting foreign wars, in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, i.e. with countries Poland had never had any conflict of interests. Polish soldiers are turned into mercenaries but what compensation Poland is getting for that is not clear.
  3. Internally Poland is ruled by an incompetent, corrupted and unaccountable political class, whose composition is steadily worsening as a result of a negative selection. The genesis of this political class is peculiar and not invoking a respect. The Magdalenka Deal, The Round Table Agreements, severe purges of the ranks of Solidarność, brought to the power people of suspicious background and origin. Numerous and nearly daily scandals regarding various members of the political elite further weaken the prestige and authority of the government and its services.
  4. Poland nowadays is rather like a colonial state under a foreign domination in all respects. Polish system of education is in chaotic situation, open for all sorts of educational hooliganism, where patriotic education is nearly totally absent. As a result Polish youth escapes from the country and massively emigrates to the West, seeking employment, better living conditions and perspectives. The unemployment rate is probably the highest in Europe, amounting to ca. 20%. Nearly all economy of Poland had been already taken over by foreign capital, especially the banking sector and industry. During the communist time Polish economy was heavily dependent on Soviet Union. The place of the Soviet Union is now taken by Germany and this dependence is even deeper and stronger than before. The national debt is mounting rapidly, as the balance of the foreign trade increases this debt by over a ten billion dollars yearly.
  5. This dependence on the German economy is especially dangerous as there exists an eternal source of troubles between Poland and Germany, namely the problem of the German property on the former III Reich territory. Over 100 000 sq. kilometers, i.e. nearly 1/3 of the territory of the present Polish state is the field of  disputed property rights.

Many people in Poland are deeply concerned with this appalling situation of the country and her future. As an efficient measure to improve it is the proposal to substantially reform electoral law and introduce the British system First-Past-The-Post in electing the members of Sejm. In such a way we shall be able to change the system of negative selection to a positive one,  create an accountable political elite and get stable governments able to conduct necessary reforms. Such a change will put an end to a farcical play "Poland, a glorious example of a successful transition from communism to freedom and democracy" and opens a road to building a normal, democratic state.


About Jerzy Przystawa

Jerzy Przystawa (1939-2012) – naukowiec, fizyk, profesor dr hab., nauczyciel akademicki na Uniwersytecie Wrocławskim, publicysta, twórca i założyciel ogólnopolskiego Ruchu Obywatelskiego na rzecz Jednomandatowych Okręgów Wyborczych
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