Parties and Politics in Post-1989 Poland

Parties and Politics in Post-1989 Poland

Parties and Politics in Post-1989 Poland

Parties and Politics in Post-1989 Poland

Synopsis

"More than six years have now passed since the end of communist rule in East-Central Europe, but we still know very little about what is perhaps the transition's most fundamental aspect: the development of party preferences and patterns in voting behavior. Seizing on the rare opportunity for observing a multi-party system taking root in society, this book considers the development of competitive party politics in Poland during the early stages of the transition to parliamentary democracy. The author explores how individuals acquire partisan preferences during such an evolution and weighs the relative impact of social cleavages, political culture and attitudes, and political actors and institutions on party system formation." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Since the summer of 1989, a pluralist political system has been developing in Poland at a remarkably rapid pace. In June 1989, the more than forty-year-old communist monopoly on power ended when the Solidarity opposition -- suppressed by the authorities since 1981 -- negotiated the right to compete for a share of parliamentary seats, and won virtually all the seats it contested. The following year, in November 1990, a presidential election split Solidarity into several rival factions, marking the end of that organization's role as an "umbrella" civic movement. By the fall of 1991, there were more than 120 registered political parties. More than one hundred parties and coalitions fielded candidates in the October elections, and twenty-nine of them won seats in the lower house, the Sejm. Two years later, the 1993 Sejm elections were held under a new electoral law meant to reduce the number of parliamentary parties. (The new law succeeded in reducing the number of parties to seven.) In the fall of 1995 Poland again had to choose its political leadership, this time in a presidential contest. For a country that had experienced only authoritarian rule for more than half a century, the entire post-1989 period has been truly a "crash course" in democracy.

This book is about how the Polish people voted, how they picked their representatives from a bewildering array of political options, given that for virtually all of them, participation in democratic elections was a genuinely new experience. The Poles did not have long-standing party loyalties to fall back on, as voters in established democracies sometimes do when they have trouble deciding for whom to cast their ballots. Nor could their political preferences be aggregated and channelled by party "machines," since most of the new parties had only minimal staff and almost no presence outside the capital. According to conventional wisdom, moreover, the end of communism rendered obsolete virtually all the politically relevant norms, beliefs and behaviors developed under the old regime. It was even suggested that until new beliefs, identities . . .

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