Andrzej Duda said that the party that always won the elections either had a majority or had a “coalition from above” – so there was no doubt when appointing the prime minister. And now, according to him, “this is a new situation.” The president is wrong: in nine parliamentary elections since 1991, in four cases a prime minister was appointed before coalitions were finally formed.
After two days of consultations with representatives of the parties that got to the Sejm in the elections, President Andrzej Duda summed up these talks on October 27 at a press conference. “Today we have two serious candidates for the position of prime minister. We have two political groups that claim to have a parliamentary majority and that have their own candidate for prime minister,” the president said. He said that the PiS candidate is Mateusz Morawiecki, and the common candidate of the Civic Coalition, Third Way and the Left is Donald Tusk.
Then Andrzej Duda said: “Everyone knows that the custom has been until now that the prime ministerial portfolio from the president was given to the candidate nominated by the winning parties.” Then he added:
But it was always the case that the winning party either had a coalition in advance and no one else claimed to have a candidate who would have a majority, or it simply had a majority, as was the case in 2015 or 2019, the so-called most of them independent.
“Today it is different. It is the first time that we have such a situation before the so-called first constitutional step. This is a new situation,” the president said.
However, Andrzej Duda is wrong. The current situation after the elections on October 15 is not new: it is not the first time in the history of the Third Polish Republic that before the president’s decision to designate the prime minister, the winning party does not have an independent majority, and the winning grouping of three parties does not have a “pre-coalition” (i.e. a formal coalition agreement). We remind you how previous presidents acted in such situations.
The first constitutional step
Let us recall what the “so-called first constitutional step” is. The Constitution of the Republic of Poland provides for three steps in electing a new government after the elections. In the first one, the president designates the Prime Minister. The designated prime minister assembles the government and presents its composition to the president. The president then appoints the prime minister and other members of the government within 14 days from the date of the first sitting of the Sejm. Then, within the next 14 days, the head of government presents the action program of his government to the Sejm. He delivers an expose and requests a vote of confidence in the new Council of Ministers. This is why a majority in the Sejm is needed, because in a vote on a motion for a vote of confidence, the number of votes “for” must be greater than the number of votes “against” and abstentions, in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of deputies (so-called absolute majority).
The majority allowing to express or reject a vote of confidence in the new government is 231 MPs. In the new Sejm, the KO-Trzecia Droga-New Left coalition will have 248 seats, while Law and Justice will have 194 and Confederation will have 18.
If the Sejm majority rejects a government with a prime minister designated by the president in the first constitutional step, the initiative passes to the Sejm. A new candidate must be nominated by a group of at least 46 MPs. The chosen candidate for prime minister also delivers an expose and needs an absolute majority in a vote of confidence to be approved as the new prime minister of the new government. The President cannot refuse to appoint and swear in the Council of Ministers so elected.
Since we are still ahead of the first step, it is up to the president to decide who he will entrust with the mission of creating a government and obtaining a majority for it in the Sejm. According to Andrzej Duda, the current situation is unprecedented – so we recall two similar situations from the past – after the elections in 1991 and 2005 – and what the president did then.
Elections in 1991: the winning party did not have an independent majority
In the first completely free parliamentary elections on October 27, 1991, there was no electoral threshold yet and as many as 24 parties got into the Sejm, seven of which had only one MP (data from: Antoni Dudek, “Political history of Poland 1989-2015”). Such fragmentation meant that no party had an independent majority.
More than 40 seats were won by: Democratic Union (62), Democratic Left Alliance (60), Confederation of Independent Poland (51), Wyborcza Akcja Katolicka (50), Polish People’s Party (50) and Porozumienie Obywatelskie Centrum (44).
Contrary to President Duda’s words, the winning party – the Democratic Union – did not have a “coalition in advance”. This is confirmed by three events described by prof. Antoni Dudek in the book “Political history of Poland 1989-2015”. Namely, after the elections, “in the absence of a clear winner”, President Lech Wałęsa himself wanted to become the head of the government. The first politician welcomed by Wałęsa after the elections was Jacek Kuroń from the victorious Democratic Union. However, he did not present the idea of any coalition, but only listened to the president’s proposal, in which Wałęsa would become prime minister and Kuroń would become deputy prime minister.
Professor Dudek recalls that Kuroń not only rejected this offer, but on November 3, 1991, the UD leadership declared that it was giving up on forming a majority coalition and presented a list of 11 economic policy conditions that were to constitute the basis of the program of the future government with the participation of UD. Despite this, on November 8, President Wałęsa – even before the first session of the Sejm (held on November 25) – behind the scenes proposed the creation of a new government by Prof. Bronisław Geremek from UD, who, despite the previous declaration of the party leadership, decided to look for a majority. The talks ended in failure and Geremek resigned after five days. Thus, the victorious Democratic Union in 1991 had neither an independent majority (and PiS is in such a situation now) nor a pre-planned coalition that it could present to President Wałęsa, which refutes Andrzej Duda’s thesis.
Ultimately, President Lech Wałęsa appointed Jan Olszewski from the Center Agreement as prime minister. It was supported by 250 MPs, and members of the Democratic Union, despite receiving the largest number of votes in the elections, found themselves in the opposition.
Elections in 1993 and 1997: there is a coalition, there is a prime minister from the coalition
Two years later, as a result of early elections on September 19, 1993, the Democratic Left Alliance and the Polish People’s Party won the most votes and parliamentary seats. Coalition talks began two days after the elections – on September 21 – and ended on October 13 with the signing of the coalition agreement. Under it, the then president of PSL, Waldemar Pawlak, became the candidate for prime minister of both parties. So a politician from outside the winning party. And five days later, on October 18, President Lech Wałęsa entrusted him with the mission of forming a government.
It was similar four years later, when the parliamentary elections of September 21, 1997 were won by Solidarity Electoral Action, and the Freedom Union came second. Conversations on topic The formation of a common government by these groups began on September 24, the coalition was confirmed on October 17, and on the same day, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski designated Jerzy Buzek as prime minister.
It can therefore be said that in both cases the principle that the president appoints the prime minister, supported by a coalition confirmed by concluding a formal agreement, was implemented.
Elections in 2001, 2005 and 2007: first the prime minister, then the coalition
However, it was different after the elections on September 23, 2001. It was won by the SLD-Unia Pracy coalition – it won 216 parliamentary seats, which was not enough to govern itself. As prof. writes Antoni Dudek, in his book, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski suggested “independently creating a minority government, seeking the support of other groups in specific matters.”
The leader of the winning alliance, Leszek Miller, after the failure of talks with the Civic Platform regarding support, was designated by Aleksander Kwaśniewski as prime minister on October 4, 2001, and only then did he start talks about a coalition with PSL. The coalition agreement was signed on October 9. So, at the time of his appointment, Leszek Miller had neither a majority to govern nor a “coalition from above”.
It was similar when Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz became prime minister after the elections on September 25, 2005. It was won by Law and Justice, obtaining 155 seats in the Sejm; Civic Platform was second – 133 seats. After the elections, a PO-PiS coalition was to be formed. But the way of conducting talks about its conclusion, as Prof. writes. Dudek, “didn’t bode well.” On September 27, 2005, Jarosław Kaczyński announced that the PiS candidate for prime minister was Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, which PO considered as a step intended to facilitate Lech Kaczyński’s victory in the presidential elections. Because at the same time as the coalition talks, there was a campaign for the presidential elections – on October 23, 2005, Lech Kaczyński won.
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was designated by President Aleksander Kwaśniewski as the head of government on October 19, when talks about establishing a PO-PiS coalition were still underway. So, at the time of his designation, there was no coalition behind him giving a majority to govern. It was established only on May 5, 2006, when the League of Polish Families joined the coalition of PiS and Self-Defense.
And was there a ready coalition behind Donald Tusk when President Lech Kaczyński entrusted him with the portfolio of prime minister after PO won the elections in 2007? Formally no. The PO won the elections on October 21, 2007, winning 209 seats in the Sejm. A coalition partner was needed to govern. The choice fell on PSL, and the declaration on concluding a government coalition between PO and PSL was signed by the leaders of both parties on November 23 – two weeks after President Lech Kaczyński entrusted Donald Tusk with the mission of forming a government on November 9.
In the following elections: in 2011, 2015 and 2019, presidents appointed as prime ministers people from those parties who, as a result of the elections, had either a coalition or an independent majority to govern.
To sum up: President Andrzej Duda is wrong when he says that “always the winning party had a coalition in advance.”
Main photo source: PAP/Radek Pietruszka