The Round Table Agreement

Poland Table of Contents

When the government convened round table talks with the opposition in early 1989, it was prepared to make certain concessions, including the legalization of Solidarity. It had no intention, however, of granting Solidarity the status of an equal partner. The fifty-seven negotiators at the talks included representatives from the ruling PZPR, Solidarity, and various PZPR-sanctioned quasi-parties and mass organizations, such as the United Peasant Party, the Democratic Party, the Christian Social Union, the Association of Polish Catholics, and the All-Polish Alliance of Trade Unions. The talks were organized into three working groups, which examined the economy, social policy, and the status of trade unions. A spirit of cooperation and compromise characterized the two-month negotiations.

The document signed by the participants on April 6, 1989, laid the groundwork for a pluralistic society that in theory would enjoy freedom of association, freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, and independent trade unions. The Round Table Agreement legalized Solidarity as a labor union; restored the pre-World War II Senate as the upper house of parliament and granted it veto powers over the decisions of the Sejm; promised partially free Sejm elections; replaced the State Council with the new executive office of president of Poland; and called for the creation of an independent judiciary of tenured judges appointed by the president from a list submitted by the parliament.

Although election to the Senate was to be completely free and open, the PZPR and its traditionally subservient partners, the United Peasant Party and the Democratic Party, were assured of 60 percent of the seats in the 460-member Sejm; and religious organizations long associated with the regime were promised 5 percent of the seats. The remaining 161 seats were open to opposition and independent candidates who had obtained at least 3,000 nominating signatures. The agreement allowed a national slate of incumbents, including Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski, to run unopposed and be reelected with a simple majority of the ballots cast. But because voters exercised their option not to endorse candidates and crossed names off the ballot, only two of thirty-five unopposed national candidates received a majority. At the same time, only three of the government's candidates for contested seats received 50 percent of the votes cast. Consequently, a second round of voting was necessary to fill the seats originally reserved for the PZPR coalition.

With only days to organize, Solidarity waged an intense and effective national campaign. A network of ad hoc citizens' committees posted lists of Solidarity candidates, mobilized supporters, and in June executed an electoral coup. Solidarity candidates won all 161 Sejm seats open to them and ninety-nine of 100 seats in the Senate. This impressive electoral performance soon convinced the PZPR-allied parties in the Sejm to side with Solidarity and to form the first postcommunist coalition government in Eastern Europe.

The erosion of the old PZPR-led coalition was evident in the July 19 parliamentary voting for the new office of president of Poland. Thirty-one members of the coalition refused to support General Jaruzelski, the unopposed candidate for the post. The Solidarity leadership, however, believed that Jaruzelski was the best candidate for the presidency. Seemingly, he could best ensure that the PZPR would honor the concessions it had made in the Round Table Agreement. Also, he was the candidate least likely to alarm Moscow. Through careful polling, Solidarity was able to engineer a one-vote margin of victory for Jaruzelski.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress