First Polish Legislative Election, 1989
The Polish legislative election of 1989 was the tenth election to the Sejm, the parliament of the People's Republic of Poland, and eleventh in Communist Poland. It took place on 4 June (first round) and 18 June (second round).
Not all parliamentary seats were freely contested, but the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition in the freely contested races paved the way to the fall of Communism in Poland. In the election's aftermath, Poland became the first country of the Eastern Bloc in which democratically elected representatives gained real power. Although the elections were not entirely democratic, they paved the way for creation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet and a peaceful transition to democracy, both in Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, which was confirmed after the Polish parliamentary elections of 1991.
On June 4, 1989, voters went to the polls to elect members of the lower and upper houses of the Polish parliament, the Sejm and the Senate. The elections were not fully democratic. Under the election law at the time, the opposition could win no more than 35 percent of the seats in the lower house. The remaining 65 percent, or 299 seats, was reserved for the ruling Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) and its two satellite parties as well as three religious and social organizations controlled by the communists.
The turnout was surprisingly low: only 62.7% in the first round and 25% in the second.
The result of the June 4 elections came as a shock to the communists-the opposition won by a landslide, gaining 160 of the 161 seats they could win in the lower house and 92 seats in the 100-member Senate. The turnout was 62 percent.
In the second round on June 18, the opposition won one seat in the lower house and seven seats in the Senate. As a result, the opposition eventually took all the seats available in a free election in the lower house and 99 seats in the Senate. The only senator from outside the Wałęsa camp was businessman Henryk Stokłosa, an independent candidate.
After their election defeat, the communists were unable to form a government of their own because Wałęsa won over some of their former allies from the United Peasants' Party and the Democratic Party. In this situation, a coalition government was formed Aug. 24, 1989 with Solidarity leading light Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister. His government embarked on far-reaching changes in Poland based on democratizing the political system and reforming the economy. The latter reforms, initiated by deputy prime minister and finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz, were dubbed shock therapy. The communists filled only a few posts in the government, including those of interior and defense ministers.
The elected parliament would be known as the Contract Sejm, from the "contract" between the Solidarity and the communist government which made it possible in the first place.
Although the elections were not entirely democratic, they paved the way for creation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's cabinet and a peaceful transition to democracy, which was confirmed after the Polish presidential election of 1990 (in which Lech Wałęsa replaced Jaruzelski as the president) and the Polish parliamentary elections of 1991.
On the international level, this election is seen as one of the major milestones in the fall of communism ("Autumn of Nations") in Central and Eastern Europe.