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Polish Politics

The May 1990 local elections were entirely free. Candidates supported by Solidarity's Citizens' Committees won most of the races they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defense and interior affairs ministers--holdovers from the previous communist government--were among those replaced. In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.

The Republic of Poland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5-year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.

Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, representing a full spectrum of political views. No single party received more than 13% of the total vote.

Since 1991, Poland has conducted six general parliamentary elections and four presidential elections -- all free and fair. Incumbent governments have transferred power smoothly and constitutionally in every instance to their successors. The post-Solidarity center-right and post-Communist center-left have each controlled the parliament and the presidency since 1991.

In parliamentary elections in September 1997 two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement -- Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) -- won 261 of the 460 seats in the Sejm and formed a coalition government. Jerzy Buzek of the AWS has been Prime Minister since these elections in 1997. Today the AWS and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) hold the majority of the seats in the Sejm. Marian Krzaklewski is the leader of the AWS, and Leszek Miller leads the SLD. In June 2000, UW withdrew from the governing collation, leaving AWS at the helm of a minority government.

The minority government, comprised of the AWS party, was under the leadership of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. The coalition has maintained generally promarket economic policies and made clear its commitment to a democratic political system. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is the opposition to the ruling coalition and holds 161 seats in the Sejm and 26 seats in the Senate. The UW and SLD dominated the Warsaw municipal council, which has lead to some clashes recently between the three dominant political parties. Along with AWS, other parties represented in parliament are the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), the Polish Alliance (PP), the Independent Party, the Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPNO), the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland (ROP), the Polish Socialist Party-Movement of Labor People (PPS-RLP), and the Polish Raison d'Etat (PRS).

A 1993 electoral law stipulated that with the exception of guaranteed seats for small German and Ukrainian ethnic parties, only parties receiving at least 5% of the total vote could enter parliament. As of June 2000, nine parties are represented in the Sejm. By 2000 the dozens of political parties which had contested early post-communist elections had been reduced to some ten groupings. However, a quarter or more of Polish voters flirted with overtly populist leaders of a 'Red-Brown' inclination. Many were marginalised Poles from families displaced from Ukraine in World War Two and now somehow 'rootless' in poor rural areas.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, was first elected President in November 1995 and re-elected in 2000. President Kwasniewski supported Polish membership in NATO and the EU and backed the SLD's legislative agenda on issues such as redrafting of the constitution and abortion liberalization. Kwasniewski was a founder of the post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), though he resigned from the party upon acceding to the presidency. The Polish government supported the "pro-American" presidential candidate in Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, in his bid to defeat the "pro-Russian" candidate, Victor Yanukovich, in the disputed election in December 2004. In post-mortems ofthe Orange Revolution, pro-Kremlin commentators in Russia notonly blamed President Alexander Kwasniewski for contributing to Yanukovich's defeat. Kwasniewski retired at the end of his second and constitutionally mandated final term on December 23, 2005.

For a time Polish politics was dominated by four major formations: Civic Platform (PO) and Law & Justice (PiS), which competed for power, as well as their potential coalition partners: Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and Polish Peoples Party (PSL). The SLD and PSL had been present in the Sejm since the democratic breakthrough at the end of 1980s. The roots of both parties go back to the communist rule SLD emerged from the ruling PZPR, PSL from its satellite ZSL. During the two and a half decades after the fal of Communism, both would assume power, have their own prime ministers, and form coalition government.

But by 2010 Poles were fed up with politicians from the Roundtable era. All parties based the visual side of their campaigns on young or new candidates.



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