A Slavic country, prior to the 20th Century it had been invaded and occupied by the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia and Austrian Hapsburgs. The Second Polish Republic came into existence in 1918, at the end of the First World War and lasted until 1939.
During the Second World War, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and in 1945 was then occupied by the Russians who created the communist People’s Republic of Poland. There it remained as a Soviet satellite state until the late 1980s when the trade union Solidarity drove a peaceful transition from a communist state to a parliamentary democracy.
In December 1989 the Sejm or lower house of parliament agreed a reform programme that would lead to the present day Poland.
The first free and democratic elections took place in November 1990 when Lech Wałęsa was elected the first president of the new Republic of Poland. In 1991 the first democratic parliamentary elections were held with 111 political parties standing. The Democratic Union took the largest number of seats, 62 in the 460 seat Sejm. The first parliament was rather unstable and it was only after the 1993 election when the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) managed to form a coalition government with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) that things settled down.
The people of Poland went to the polls once more in 1997 and elected the Solidarity Electoral Action with close affiliations to Solidarity. They formed a coalition with the Freedom Union (UW) but the experiment was not a huge success and in 2001 the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) was back with 216 seats and a new coalition with the Union of Labour (UP) and Polish People’s Party (PSL).
In 1999 Poland joined NATO and in 2004 they joined the European Union.
In 2005, following internal strife and scandals the SLD lost the election badly, falling from 216 seats to just 55 seats. In their place came two relative newcomers; the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO). Both parties on the centre right had been expected to go in to coalition after the election, but as the campaign became more acrimonious that clearly wasn’t going to happen. Throughout the campaign the polls suggested both parties were close, but in the end the PiS prevailed and took 155 seats to Civic Platform’s 133 seats.
The Law and Justice Party found themselves having to form a coalition with two much smaller parties, the agrarian and left-leaning Self-Defence of the Republic of Poland (SRP) and the, arguably, far-right League of Polish Families (LPR). Jarosław Kaczyński became Prime Minister and in the October 2005 his brother Lech Kaczyński became Poland’s new President.
The coalition government was a disaster and in 2007 the Sejm elected to dissolve itself and call another election. This time the centre-right Civic Platform prevailed, taking 209 seats and with the centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL) and their 31 seats they were able to form a stable coalition government. The leader of the Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, became the new Prime Minister replacing Jarosław Kaczyński of the PiS.
In April 2010 Lech Kaczyński died in a plane crash as he was flying from Warsaw to commemorate the Katyn massacre in Russia. The tragedy in which 96 people were killed has been the subject of repeated conspiracy theories. The former President’s brother, Jarosław Kaczyński, stood in the subsequent Presidential election but it was Bronisław Komorowski of Civic Platform who prevailed with 53% of the vote.
In 2011 Prime Minister Donald Tusk called fresh elections for 9th October. Civic Platform dropped just two seats in the election to 207 seats in the 460 seat Sejm. The Polish People’s Party (PSL) dropped three seats to 28 seats, but together the two parties reformed their coalition with 235 seats when 231 seats were needed for a majority.
Donald Tusk stood down as Prime Minister in September 2014 to take up a new role as President of the European Council. He was replaced by Ewa Kopacz who took over as disillusionment was setting in with the governing coalition.
By May 2015 the new Prime Minister looked as though she had settled things down a bit and then the Presidential election threw up a shock result. At the start of the Presidential campaign Bronisław Komorowski looked as though he would win comfortably, but in the second round 43 year old Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) won with 51.55%. The result left the October 2015 general election as a potential cliff-hanger between the two main centre-right parties.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five year term.
The bicameral parliament comprises the Senate or upper house and the Sejm. The Senate has 100 members elected by a majority vote on a provincial basis to serve four year terms. The lower house or Sejm has 460 members elected under a complex system of proportional representation to serve four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Poland at joint 29th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 62 (where 100 is least corrupt).