/Who decided and who is to decide about the Polish electoral system?

Who decided and who is to decide about the Polish electoral system?

A response to Professor Pienkos’ remarks on the Polish democratic development.



Let me start from the end of Prof. Pienkos’ statement:



Poland's method of election is a matter for the Polish people and its leaders to decide – pure and simple. We as Americans can watch and be of help, when and if we are asked. But that's it. The good Doctor for his part can argue his views there and I wish him well. But it is for the Polish people to decide for themselves what is best for them. 



First of all, I am not some "good Doctor" who argues his views in order to patronise others. I am one of the Polish people, I live in Poland and am a member of the Polish Nation.  Whether others wish me well or not, I will speak about the electoral system which was imposed on us in 1991 and which, among other things, deprives us of the right to freely stand in elections.  I could not agree more with Professor Pienkos when he says that it is for the Polish people to decide what is best for them.  We are denied that right through a corrupt and undemocratic electoral system and this is the main point of my argument.



Ever since  the so called "First Completely Free Parliamentary Elections in Poland" of 1991 I happen to belong to those who are raising the following question: "Why the Free Poland, at the birth of her democracy, had  not adopted the electoral system of her greatest historical Allies, of  those about whom Winston Churchill wrote his monumental work "The Great Democracies" – the British, the Canadians, the Americans, the Australians etc etc. – but a  system completely different, a system  which was in fact already totally compromised by the 20 years of practice of the II Polish Republic of 1919 – 1939?"



There cannot be any doubt that that system was compromised, preventing Poland from creating a sensible political elite and a sensible state: General Sławoj- Składkowski, the last Prime Minister of that Poland, happened to be the 19th Prime Minister within 20 years of the existence of the State. The situation with all the other ministers was even worse: it was virtually impossible to find a governmental minister who would be  able to stay in his office even for one year! Constant, permanent changes of government, a weak state incapable of solving any internal or external problem – this was the result of the faulty and senseless electoral system. Our ancestors tried to repair that system many times and never succeeded. For some reasons they  avoided the system practiced for nearly two centuries by their greatest friends and allies: the British and the Americans and also by Poland until the partitions in the XVIIIth century. 


It is remarkable that Donald Pienkos, an American Political Science Professor,  in a far away University of Wisconsin, made an observation identical to what the Polish Movement for Electoral Reform has been pointing out for the last 20 years:



The decision after 1989 was to go with a very generous PR system of electing legislators. This action had the effect of saving the former communist party from extinction. This was because the Communists, or post-Communists, or SLD or SDRP, or whatever they called themselves, had they operated in a "single member district plurality wins" system would nowhere have won more than 10 or 15 percent of the total vote in any district. As a result, the party would have been relegated to the "ash heap" of politics in Poland.



Well said. However, "Saving from extinction" is, to put it mildly, a slight understatement.  Has Professor Pienkos not noticed a decade of presidency by a former high-ranking communist apparatchik? Has he not noticed, numerous governments led by  similar communist frontmen, like Miller, Oleksy, Cimoszewicz, Belka or Pawlak for that matter? Has  he not noticed how former communist apparatchiks and people of communist secret service were taking over Polish banks, land and property? And first of all the all-powerfull media: newspapers, television and radio networks? Nice escape from extinction, no doubt!



But what has this "generosity" given  back to us – the  generous Polish people? What have we got in return?



In return we received a state even weaker than that between the two world wars. Poland has become a laughing – stock of the international politics while consecutive Polish governments proved themselves totally incapable of solving a single serious domestic problem. We have a collapse of the national system of education, a collapse of the national health service, a collapse of the state public transport – roads, railways and airlines; we have merely remnants of the Polish army, all our banks are in foreign hands, the overall national debt has shocking dimensions, we have annihilated our industry and reduced the agriculture and one would have a very hard time trying  to find a Polish product on both the international and domestic markets. About two million young people emigrated for job, another two million jobless in Poland, every second university or college graduate without any perspective of finding a qualified employement.  Polish jails are overcrowded, the most applications before the European Court of Human Rights are filed from Poland and  in many thousand cases the State of Poland is found guilty and has to pay high compensations!



And how can it be otherwise when Donald Tusk is the 15th Prime Minister of Poland since 1989 and in each of his ministerial departments the situation is even more pathetic:  Krzysztof Kwiatkowski is the 24th Minister of Justice; Jerzy Miller is the 21st Minister of Interior,  Marek Sawicki is the 24th Minister of Agriculture; and so on  and so on. The constitutional post of a minister is nothing more than a sinecure for some chosen people!



People in Poland demand change. Numerous opinion polls document that an overwhelming majority of Poles want to vote for persons not for political parties! Our  National Movement demands the American system of elections. We have organized literally hundreds of conferences all over the country, published many books, brochures and  articles, staged street demonstration and so on. For all these 20 years any access of the representatives of the Movement to public television or radio had been denied. When we stage a demonstration all tv cameras carefully look other way.



Nearly a million signatures of Polish citizens have been collected to demand  a national referendum on this issue. The signatures were presented to the Sejm and were not even discussed! A couple of weeks ago the Polish population learnt  that all those signatures had been shredded! Presently we are filing a complaint to  the European Court of Human Rights. Yes, we totally agree with Professor Pienkos that it  is for the Polish people to decide about the electoral system. We only want to point out that this basic right of the Polish people is being permanently violated.



We as Americans can watch and be of help, when and if we are asked – writes Professor Pienkos. Really? Look at what is he telling us now, when we have come to ask for his support.  Is he  encouraging us to use the American example and learn from America? I could not find any words of encouragement in his statement.



It is a very interesting question in itself. Lest us look at the history of the world and see how America is spreading and developing democracy all over the world.



We know from the Memoires of Konrad Adenauer that this great German politician proposed the British system of elections in Germany after the WWII "but the Allies did not agree to that".  Did General MacArthur introduce the American system to the  infant democracy of Japan? Was the American system introduced in Italy after the unconditional surrender of Badoglio? Is the US implementing single-seat constituencies in Iraq or Afghanistan?



Upon this experience one could come to conclusion  that the US, while helping other countries to build democracy, has always preferred  some other systems to the one you have in America. And if I understand Professor Pienkos properly he also suggests that we should  go different way rather than tried to follow America! I must admit I find it a bit strange.



Undoubtedly Professor Pienkos is right in his remark that there is no absolutely "best" system of elections. In Poland we are not looking for the "best"  but for a better system. For a system that will respect our citizen’s rights and will lead to a sensibly ruled state. After 21 years of democracy the Polish population has no respect for politicians and no confidence in their parliamentary representatives. In fact, opinion polls reveal that politicians in Poland occupy the lowest positions in rankings of the social esteem. The present Prime Minister Donald Tusk once said: "the Polish voters, from one election to another, are more and more convinced that the Day of Election is a Day of a Great National Fraud". These are his very words.



Polish voters feel cheated and manipulated. The majority do not understand the election rules and do not see a  connection between  their voting and the outcome of elections. Therefore the majority of  voters abstain from voting. They do not consider these elections free and there are good reasons for that. The most obvious reason is that a Polish citizen has no right to stand as a candidate in the parliamentary elections on his own. The only possibility to stand is through a political party channel, i.e. with a consent of the party leadership. Political parties and their leaders enjoy various legal privileges and in such a way the electoral equality of citizens is seriously violated. Polish democracy has long ago turned into partitocracy, which in many respects resembles the communist political system



Again, I totally agree with Professor Pienkos: it is for the Polish people to decide for themselves which system is best for them. The Polish people, for a long time, have been demanding a referendum on this issue. The trouble is that the Polish politicians, of all political parties, do not want even to hear about it! They think it is a decision for them and for them alone. The Polish people have no right to interfere.

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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