Poland Political System

Political system

According to the constitution adopted in 1997, short for PL, Poland is a parliamentary democracy where power is shared between legislative, executive and judicial bodies.

The legislative power is held by the lower house of Parliament (the Sejm), whose 460 members are elected in general, proportional elections every four years. The same term applies to the 100 members of the upper chamber (Senate) who are elected in general election. The voting age is 18 years.

Since 1993, parties must receive at least five percent of the vote in order to take up the seat, but exceptions are made for parties representing minority groups. For partial alliances, the requirement is eight percent. As a result, only four to five lots (if you count off jumpers and breakers) are represented in the sejm.

The President is elected directly by the people for a term of five years and can sit for a maximum of two terms of office. The president’s powers include proposing a prime minister (head of government), to be approved by and responsible for the Sejm. Thus, usually the representative of the largest party in the Sejm becomes prime minister. It is they who have the real power in the country. The president has overall responsibility for foreign and defense policy, but in reality the influence of the head of state is limited. The president’s most important instrument of power is the possibility of vetoing bills. However, the veto can be circumvented if 60 percent of MPs vote to repeal it. The President further appoints ambassadors, judges and generals (on the proposal of the respective Minister of Trade and Industry).

Poland is divided into 16 counties, vojvodship (województwo), with a head of government appointed by the government, vojvod (wojewoda), at the head. These include 314 rural or regional districts (powiaty ziemskie), 65 cities with district status (powiaty grodzkie) and 2,489 municipalities (gminy). At all three levels of administration, there are elected parliaments who appoint governing bodies.

Political parties

The party system has its background in the social structure that existed during the communist era, when almost all of them were government employees. In the transition from communist rule to democracy, Solidarity, with the rise of the trade union movement, had a key role (see Modern history) and the political parties could only with some difficulty be divided into the usual left-right scale. But in recent years, the big divide in politics has been between two parties that were registered just after the turn of the millennium: Law and Justice (Prawo in Sprawiedliwość, PiS) that has been ruling since 2015, and the Citizenship Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO).

PO is more liberal and European-friendly than PiS and has a left wing, for example, for free abortion. PiS is more nationalist, EU-skeptical and pronounced value conservative, for example strongly against same-sex marriage. PiS has criticized the PO for conducting an overly German and Russian-friendly policy in office until 2015. In economic matters, PiS calls itself “more social”, which mainly means that they are for a stronger state involvement in the economy. In the family policy and abortion issue, PiS adheres to the message of the Catholic Church and opposes PO’s more liberal attitude.

Both camps have hosted extremist groups that can be described as fundamentalist – strongly anti-clerical (opponents of ecclesiastical influence) or strongly religious. Both of these phalanges have tried to form outbreak parties: The anti-clerical Palikot movement (Ruch Palikota) had success in the 2011 election but was split in 2013. The successor Your movement (Twój Ruch) did not succeed in entering the Sejm 2015. The strong Catholic outbreak party Solidarity Poland (Solidarna Polska, SP) was founded in 2012 and wanted to sharpen the law that basically already banned abortion. SP wanted to remove the exception in the law that allows abortion if the child will be severely disabled. Two other exceptions – if the mother’s life is in danger and if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest – would remain. The SP did not receive its own mandate in the seism 2015, but acts in alliance with Law and Justice, as well as another smaller party: Agreement (Porozumienie Jarosława Gowina, PJG).

The Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) was a member of the government together with the PO until 2015 and then went into opposition. It is an interest party for the country’s many private farmers. Between 2001 and 2003, the PSL co-operated with the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD). Both PSL and SLD have their background in the former Communist Party. The SLD is still dominated by former communists and before the democratization in 1989, the PSL was a support party for the communists.

In connection with the 2019 elections, party supply began to be a bit more similar to what it looks like in many other countries: PiS is now leading a strong right alliance, the United Right Coalition (Koalicja Zjednoczonej Prawicy). In the center there is a liberal block around PO and the left has been gathered in an alliance with several parties, among them SLD.

SLD, along with other small parties in 2015, had formed the United Left Alliance (Zjednoczona Lewica, ZL), but failed to reach Parliament. An extended alliance, the Left (Lewica), is now gathering more parties, and has reached its peak. SLD collaborates here with the Left together (Lewica Racem), the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and the Labor Union (Unia Pracy). Also included are the Wios(Spring), newly formed by Robert Biedroń, former mayor of Słupsk, who wants, among other things, equal pay for women and men, defend the right to abortion, separate the church from the state, and make marriage between people of the same sex legal. In addition, the party aims to close coal mines as Poland releases large amounts of greenhouse gases.

In 2015, two completely newly formed parties entered parliament: right-wing populist Kukiz’15, led by a well-known rock singer, and market liberal Moderna (Nowoczesna). Both remain, but in different alliances.

In response to the PiS government’s controversial policy (see Current Policy and Calendar), a number of opposition parties in 2016 formed an alliance with the goal of protecting the rule of law. The coalition which was named Freedom, Equality and Democracy included a number of center and left parties such as Moderna, PSL and SLD. Since then, SLD has separated to the left, and in 2019 PSL put up with Kukiz’15. There remains a clearer middle block with the Citizens’ Platform (PO) and liberal Moderna at its core, which in July 2019, before the parliamentary elections, received grants from the Greens. Secular Polish initiatives are also part of the Alliance called the Citizens Coalition, Koalicja Obywatelska (KO).

The Confederation of Freedom and Independence (Confederacja Wolność in Niepodległość), is an alliance of several parties standing far to the right. One of the most famous is the National Movement (Ruch narodowy). The collection contains, among other things, royal lists.

The German minority (Mniejszość Niemiecka, MN) is a party that protects the interests of the German minority. With the support of rules for minority protection, the party could have been represented in the Sejm with a mandate.

Growing turnout

Political disdain is widespread in Poland, which is considered to be a major reason for low voter turnout (52 percent in the 1993 elections, 49 percent in 1997, 46 percent in 2001, 41 percent in 2005, 54 percent in 2007, 49 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2015). In the 2004 European Parliament elections, just over 20 percent voted, while fewer than 25 percent of voters voted in the European Parliament elections in both 2009 and 2014. A significant change occurred in 2019, when, among other former presidents, the imminent parliamentary election marked a fate election: participation rose to 62 percent.

The previous lack of political involvement may have been partly because the parties were relatively new, with weak organizations.

READING TIP: Law and justice – fate issue for Poland. World Policy Day Issues # 9 2018

Poland Urban Population



Populist parties enter the government

Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński joins two populist parties in the government: the right-wing Nationalist Party of Polish Families (LPR), whose leader Roman Giertych becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, and the Self-Defense Party, which has its electoral support among peasants and whose leader becomes Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej and Minister of Agriculture.



Conservative rolling victor

The Party of Law and Justice (PiS) under the twin brothers Jarosław and Lech Kaczyński wins the election to the sejman (parliament’s lower house) with a small margin and low turnout. Jarosław Kaczyński gets the assignment to form government. Lech Kaczyński wins the presidential election two weeks later.