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Post-Communist Political Parties

The Democratic Bloc formed in 1947 included the forerunner of the communist Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza--PZPR) and its leftist allies. The breakthrough in ending the political monopoly of the PZPR came in 1980 with the emergence of the Interfactory Strike Committee, which rapidly evolved into the Solidarity mass movement of some 10 million Poles. The stunning defeat of the PZPR in the June 1989 parliamentary elections removed Solidarity's most important unifying force -- the common enemy. By the time of the local elections of May 1990, Solidarity had splintered, and a remarkable number of small parties had appeared. Because any individual with fifteen nominating signatures could be placed on the ballot, an astounding 1,140 groups and "parties" registered for the elections. In the local elections, the new groups' lack of organization and national experience caused them to fare poorly against the Solidarity-backed citizens' committees that sponsored about one-third of the candidates running for local office.

Despite the success of the Solidarity candidates in the local elections, serious divisions soon emerged within the Citizens' Parliamentary Club concerning the appropriateness of political parties at so early a stage in Poland's democratic experiment. The intellectuals who dominated the parliamentary club insisted that the proliferation of political parties would derail efforts to build a Western-style civil society. But deputies on the right of the political spectrum, feeling excluded from important policy decisions by the intellectuals, advocated rapid formation of strong alternative parties.

KPN - Confederation for an Independent Poland

Founded in 1979 by military historian Leszek Moczulski, the Confederation for Independent Poland (Konfederacja Polski Niepodleglej--KPN) claimed with some justification to be the first true opposition party of the communist era. Years before the emergence of Solidarity, Moczulski was defying the authorities with calls for the restoration of Polish sovereignty and the replacement of the communist system; he was imprisoned repeatedly from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. The KPN did not participate in the talks leading to the Round Table Agreement and refused to compromise with the PZPR.

Because of its reputation for radicalism and violence, the KPN fared poorly in its first electoral tests: the parliamentary elections of 1989, the local elections of May 1990, and the presidential election in the autumn of 1990. But by 1991 Polish voters had grown disenchanted with the seeming impotence of the postcommunist political establishment in the face of the country's worsening economic problems. As a result, the KPN was among the extremist groups and individuals that fared well in the 1991 parliamentary elections. The KPN won forty-six seats in the Sejm, two more than the mainstream Center Alliance.

Following its success in the parliamentary elections, the KPN sought to moderate its image by joining four center-right parties in a coalition supporting the candidacy of Jan Olszewski as prime minister. Moczulski took the KPN out of the short-lived coalition, however, when Olszewski failed to name him minister of national defense. Outraged at the government's charges that Moczulski had been a collaborator with the communist secret service, the KPN voted for Olszewski's removal in June 1992. The KPN then withdrew its initial support of Pawlak as Olszewski's replacement. The seven-party alliance in support of Suchocka in mid-1992 seemingly ended the KPN's participation in coalition politics and returned it to the role of the uncompromising outsider.

PPPP - Beer-Lovers' Party

Registered as a political party in December 1990, the Polish Beer-Lovers' Party (Polska Partia Przyjaciól Piwa--PPPP) may have started as a prank. But with time, its members developed a serious platform, for which the humorous stated goals of the party--lively political discussion in pubs serving excellent beer--were a symbol of freedom of association and expression, intellectual tolerance, and a higher standard of living. Its humorous name probably helped the party win votes from a politically disenchanted populace in the 1991 parliamentary elections, in which the PPPP captured sixteen Sejm seats. In early 1992, following a split within the PPPP into the Big Beer and Little Beer parties, the former assumed the name Polish Economic Program. Losing its image of quirkiness, the Polish Economic Program became associated with the UD and KLD in the Little Coalition of liberal promarket parties and supported the candidacy of Hanna Suchocka as prime minister.

Center Alliance

An outspoken Walesa supporter determined to end the political dominance of the intellectual elite in the Citizens' Parliamentary Club, Jaroslaw Kaczynski formed the Center Alliance in May 1990. The Center Alliance supported a strong political center embodying the ideals of Solidarity and Christian ethics. With the election of its candidate for president, Walesa, and the appointment of Kaczynski as the president's chief of staff, the Center Alliance became one of the most influential political organizations in the country.

The Center Alliance platform for the parliamentary elections of October 1991 called for accelerated economic reform, privatization, rapid decommunization, and a strongly pro-Western foreign policy, including full membership in NATO. Considering its prominent position in the government and media and its large national membership, the party fared rather poorly in the 1991 elections. Its popular vote total yielded forty-four Sejm and nine Senate seats. The Center Alliance made its last show of political power in engineering the selection of its candidate, Jan Olszewski, to lead the coalition government in December 1991. By mid-1992, however, the influence of the party had waned because of a bitter personal rift between Kaczynski and Walesa, the demise of the Olszewski government, and the party's decision not to participate in the ruling coalition of Hanna Suchocka.

UD - Democratic Union

The Democratic Union (Unia Demokratyczna--UD) held its unification congress in May 1991 to integrate three Solidarity splinter groups and to adopt a platform for the parliamentary elections. The UD counted among its members such luminaries of the Solidarity movement as Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik, Bronislaw Geremek, and Tadeusz Mazowiecki. The party sought political and economic reform through the rule of law. Rejecting extremism of any stripe, it pursued policies of economic pragmatism. Although its registered membership ranked only fifth numerically among political parties, the UD was a well-organized national party with branches in all forty-nine districts.

In October 1991, with the UD expected to win more than a quarter of the Sejm seats in the parliamentary election, party chairman Mazowiecki indicated his availability to reassume the duties of prime minister. But the UD took only sixty-two Sejm and twenty-one Senate seats, paying dearly for its refusal to renounce the Balcerowicz Plan of economic shock therapy and for opposing the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of abortion.

During the first half of 1992, relations between the UD and Walesa improved considerably. Walesa offered to appoint the two former prime ministers, Mazowiecki and Bielecki, as his senior advisers. He repeatedly urged the inclusion of the UD in an expanded governing coalition, but negotiations toward that end failed. Instead, the UD joined forces with two other economic reformist parties outside the Olszewski government to form the Little Coalition. After the collapse of the Olszewski government, the coalition failed to reach an agreement with the new prime minister, Waldemar Pawlak, on the composition of a new cabinet. According to Pawlak, the coalition insisted on total control over the economy, a concession he was not willing to make. With the election of Hanna Suchocka as the new prime minister in mid-1992, the Democratic Union regained the leadership of the government and held four of the key cabinet positions, including director of the Office of the Council of Ministers and the ministries of finance, defense, and labor and social affairs.

KLD - Liberal-Democratic Congress

The Liberal-Democratic Congress (Kongres LiberalnoDemokratyczny --KLD) arose in 1983 as a loose organization of businessmen dedicated to a philosophy of small government and free enterprise. The KLD was registered as a party in October 1990 and supported the presidential candidacy of Walesa, who selected KLD leader Jan Krzysztof Bielecki as his nominee to be prime minister. Another prominent party member, Janusz Lewandowski, headed the Ministry of Ownership Transformation in the Bielecki cabinet. Donald Tusk, chairman of the KLD executive board, led an unsuccessful attempt to form a broad coalition to support candidates in the 1991 Senate race. The party foreswore ideological sloganeering and backed rational, pragmatic policies. In the parliamentary elections, the KLD finished seventh in popular vote, winning thirty-seven Sejm and six Senate seats.

ZChN - Christian National Union

Socially conservative but economically to the left, the Christian National Union (Zjednoczenie Chrzescijansko-Narodowe-- ZChN) was the dominant member of a short-lived electoral alliance known as Catholic Action. The alliance finished third in the 1991 parliamentary elections and earned ZChN forty-nine Sejm and nine Senate seats. The ZChN supported the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in politics and government, religious instruction in the schools, a generous social welfare program, and trade protectionism. The party played a large role in both the Olszewski and Suchocka governments. Under Suchocka, the ZChN held five cabinet positions and the post of deputy prime minister for economic affairs.

PChD - Party of Christian Democrats

Founded in December 1990, the small Party of Christian Democrats (Partia Chrzescijanskich Demokratów--PChD) used the political experience of its membership to gain success disproportionate to its size. Its most prominent member, Pawe Laczkowski, became deputy prime minister for political affairs in the Suchocka government. On social issues, the PChD supported a more pragmatic, centrist brand of Christian democracy than that advocated by the larger ZChN. On economic issues, the PChD supported a rapid approach to economic transformation and privatization.

PL - Peasant Alliance

In mid-1992, the party of the Rural Solidarity farmers' union, the Peasant Alliance (Porozumienie Ludowe--PL) held two prominent positions in the Suchocka government, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources. The party also controlled the post of minister without portfolio for parliamentary liaison. In mid-1992 the Peasant Alliance and the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe--PSL) were still divided by their political backgrounds although they both represented Poland's large rural sector. The PL, still distrusting the PSL for its past accommodation with the communists, opposed the selection of PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak as prime minister. The PL supported import tariffs to protect domestic farmers, state subsidies to maintain farm commodity prices, and easy credit for farmers.

PSL - Polish Peasant Party

The rebirth of the moderate interwar Polish Peasant Party (PSL) began in the summer of 1989, when the United Peasant Party (Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe--ZSL) joined forces with Solidarity and Democratic Party deputies in the new Sejm to usher in a noncommunist government. The ZSL adopted the name Polish Peasant Party "Renewal" to distance itself from its past in the communist coalition; then it united with the largest existing opposition peasant party and resumed its original name. In the May 1990 local elections, the PSL garnered 20 percent of the rural vote. In September 1990, the PSL withdrew support for the Mazowiecki government, citing its disapproval of current agricultural policy and Mazowiecki's failure to appoint a PSL member as the minister of agriculture. As it continued to seek legislative relief for farmers, the PSL also became a vocal critic of the Bielecki government that followed Mazowiecki.

As of mid-1992, the PSL was the third-largest single-party bloc in the Sejm. In 1992 the party's 180,000 dues-paying members made it the largest political party in the country. It showed considerable strength even in such heavily industrialized areas as Upper Silesia. Although not a member of the five-party coalition that installed Olszewski as prime minister in December 1991, the PSL provided critical support in securing Sejm approval for Olszewski's cabinet at a time when that coalition was already beginning to collapse. Despite its initial support for Olszewski, however, the party became disenchanted with the prime minister's agricultural program and voted for his removal in 1992.

PZPR and Successor Parties
SdRP Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland

During the 1980s, the Marxist underpinnings of the PZPR steadily eroded, and, long before the round table talks, the ruling party had lost its ideological fervor. Official PZPR documents compiled in May 1987 revealed that only about 25 percent of the membership were politically active, more than 60 percent paid their dues but were inactive, and 15 percent did not even pay their dues. By that time, protecting the national interest had replaced Marxist doctrine as the guiding principle of the government's actions. For example, the Jaruzelski regime characterized its imposition of martial law in 1981 not as an attempt to restore Marxist purity but as a preemptive measure to avoid Soviet military intervention in Poland. The PZPR had accepted the necessity of economic decentralization, privatization, and price liberalization, realizing that to regain political legitimacy it had to win the cooperation of the opposition.

Despite its enormous advantage in institutional and monetary resources, control of the electronic media and most print media, and a slate of reformist, nonideological candidates, the PZPR suffered an overwhelming defeat in the parliamentary elections of June 1989. Once the parties that were its traditional allies had repositioned themselves with Solidarity to install a noncommunist government, the PZPR had become a political relic. In January 1990, at its final congress (the eleventh), the PZPR patterned itself after Western social democratic parties and adopted the name Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland (Socjaldemokracja Rzeczypospolitej Polski--SdRP).

The SdRP, which inherited the assets and infrastructure of the PZPR, was a political force that could not be ignored in the reform era. During the 1990 presidential elections, for example, the SdRP candidate received 9 percent of the vote. At its first national convention in May 1991, the party adopted a platform supporting pluralistic democracy, a parliamentary form of government, strict separation of church and state, women's rights, environmental protection, the right to work, a generous social safety net, and good relations with all of Poland's neighbors. In July 1991, preparing for the October parliamentary elections, the SdRP invited other groups with a communist lineage to join it in a broad coalition, the Alliance of the Democratic Left (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej--SLD). The most important of these groups was the All-Polish Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Zwiazków Zawodowych--OPZZ), which Jaruzelski had created in 1984 to co-opt Solidarity's influence among the working people.

By the time of the 1991 elections, the OPZZ had a larger membership than Solidarity. Of the 390 SLD candidates for the parliamentary elections of October 1991, 45 percent were members of the SdRP and about one-third belonged to the OPZZ. The SLD surprised most political observers by finishing a close second to the Democratic Union and winning sixty Sejm and four Senate seats. Its failure to expand its membership, however, made the SLD a political outcast in the coalition-building efforts that followed the 1991 election.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:04:30 ZULU