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Polish legislative election, 1957

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Polish legislative election, 1957

Polish legislative election, 1957

January 20, 1957 (1957-01-20)

All 459 seats in the Sejm[a]
Turnout 94.14%
  First party


Leader Władysław Gomułka
Party FJN - PZPR
Leader since 21 October 1956
Leader's seat Warsaw-Prague
Last election 388 seats, 91.2%
Seats won 396 (PZPR - 239, ZSL - 118, SD - 39), 80.8%
Seat change +8

Premier before election

Józef Cyrankiewicz


Józef Cyrankiewicz

Parliamentary elections were held in Poland on 20 January 1957.[1] They were the second election to the Sejm – the bicameral parliament of the People's Republic of Poland, and the third ever in the history of Communist Poland. It took place during the liberalization period, following Władysław Gomułka's ascension to power. Although freer than previous elections, they were not a free election. Polish voters of 1957 were given the right to vote against some official candidates; de facto having a small chance to express a vote of no confidence against the government and the Party, but no possibility to elect any real opposition, whose members were not allowed to run in the elections. The elections resulted in a predictable victory for the Front of National Unity coalition dominated by the ruling Polish communist party – the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), and communist leader, Władysław Gomułka.

The elections, while victorious for Gomułka, did not guarantee lasting changes in the Polish society. The new regime was much more liberal than its Stalinist predecessor, and enjoyed moderate support during the first few years after the election in the "little stabilization" period of 1957–1963. However, by mid-1960s it faced opposition from the competing factions in the communist party itself. Coupled with growing popular opposition to the communist rule, Gierek would be removed from power in the aftermath of the 1968 political crisis and the Polish 1970 protests.

The previous elections in Poland were held in 1952. These were followed by the 1961 elections.


Władysław Gomułka, at the height of his popularity, addresses hundreds of thousand of people in Warsaw on 24 October 1956. He appealed for an end to demonstrations and return to work. "United with the working class and the nation", he concluded, "the Party will lead Poland along a new way of socialism." Gomułka's popularity at that time probably equalled that of Józef Piłsudski's in 1920 and Lech Wałęsa in 1980; but disillusionment would soon follow.[2]

The elections were originally planned for the December of 1956 but due to significant political changes in the government, resulting from Władysław Gomułka's ascension to power, they were delayed until early 1957.[3] Among the various promises made by First Secretary Gomułka, during the Polish October peaceful revolution, to the restless Polish population was that of free elections. He knew that this was a promise that he could not keep without seeing his party defeated. In the January 1957 elections the new 'democratic' aspect was the reintroduction of the secret ballot,[4] and more importantly, there were more candidates than available seats in the parliament;[4][5] in the 1952 elections the number of candidates equaled the number of seats in the Sejm.[4][5] Another liberalizing factor was that unlike in previous elections, intimidation by the secret police (Służba Bezpieczeństwa) and the government against the opposition was limited.[4]

The candidates were divided into two groups - one officially supported by the party and the 'independents' (broadly following the communist party line but not declared members of the party).[5] The latter would be only considered if over half of the registered voters in the district voted against the official candidates; otherwise all seats from the district (on average between 3 to 6) would be awarded to the official candidates.[5]

Over 60,000 candidates were registered for the 459 seats in the Sejm.[4][5][a] The government was not prepared to release its hold on power, so the candidates were screened and only 720[4] or 723[5] out of 60,000 were finally allowed to participate and be published on the official list by the [6][7] Factors such as the number of signatures in support of a candidate were deemed to be irrelevant.[5]

According to an official government press agency dispatch, about half of the candidates (appox. 360) were PZPR members.[4] A majority of the remainder belonged to PZPR allies (Democratic Party (SD), United People's Party (ZSL)). There was no opposition party in Poland since all political groupings had to support the program of the PZPR.[4] As a result, no real opposition candidates were permitted to run in the elections, but in theory the Polish voters could have stripped the communists from their claimed legitimacy by abstaining from voting.[4][5] Another means of preventing the PZPR from obtaining a political victory would have occurred if all of the PZPR candidates were struck out, leaving only 100 to be elected.[4]

Despite the lack of genuine opposition, the liberalized election format allowed for various power struggles to be played out, primarily between the communist party candidates.[8] A particularly notable case was the rivalry between certain candidates from the main communist party (PZPR) and one of the lesser communist parties (ZSL).[8]

A day before the elections, Gomułka appealed to Polish citizens not to vote against the Party's candidates, asserting that 'crossing them out would equal crossing Poland off the map of Europe'[5] and would bring upon Poland the fate of Hungary.[4] The fear of a possible Soviet intervention, in case of Gomułka's loss, was also repeated by Radio Free Europe, which noted that Gomułka's argument while "cruel", is likely "entirely correct."[9] Gomułka also persuaded the Catholic Church to urge voters to go to the polls and declare a vote of confidence in the government.[4][10] Supporting him, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński officially declared his support for the 'no crossing' policy.[5]


Election results (by-elections not included).
Party Votes % Seats +/–
Front of National Unity Polish United Workers' Party 16,563,314 98.4 239 –34
United People's Party 118 +28
Democratic Party 39 +14
Independents 63 +27
Blank ballots 270,002 1.6
Invalid votes 58,897
Total 16,892,213 100 459 +34
Registered voters/turnout 17,944,081 94.1
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

The Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) won 237[4] (239 after by-elections)[11][b] seats out of 459[a] while the remainder went its satellite parties (Democratic Party and United People's Party) and a few independents.[4] PZPR 237 seats gave it 51.7% of total, ZSL with 120[4] (118 after by-elections)[11][b] had 26.1%, the independents with 63 had 14% (non-party faction, 51, and Catholics from the Znak association,[12] 12) and SD with 39 had 8.5%.[4] The FJN alliance was victorious, with 80.8% of the seats.

Overall, the FJN alliance gained 8 seats compared to its 1952 results, but the independents nearly doubled their presence, from 37 to 63 (this is explained as the Sejm of 1957 had 459 seats, an increase of 34 from the 1952, which had only 425 seats).[11] PZPR was the biggest loser, with 34 seats less than in 1952, ZSL gained 28, and SD, 14.[11] However, as the other parties and "independents" were in fact subordinate to PZPR, its control of the Sejm was, in fact, total.[11][13] The representational pattern in the Sejm would be nearly stable for the next 30 years, following a slight swing from the independents to PZPR in 1961.[11]

According to official data, turnout was 94.14%,[4][5] which are considered to be somewhat suspect considering heavy snowfalls and unfavorable weather conditions prevailing in Poland at the time,[4] and 98.4% of votes were cast for official candidates.[5] Approximately 10.6% of the voters disobeyed the calls for "no crossing", but in the end only one seat (in Nowy Sącz) remained unfilled due to no candidate achieving absolute majority.[14]

The new Sejm had its first session on 20 February. Its senior marshal (speaker) was Bolesław Drobner; its Sejm marshal was Czesław Wycech.[15] Only 12% of the new deputies were members of the previous, 1952, Sejm.[14]

Two by-elections were held after the main election.[4] The first took place on 17 March 1957 at Nowy Sącz.[4] The second took place at Wieluń on 5 May 1957 to replace the incumbent who died on February 5.[4] Those by-elections were won by the PZPR and the ZSL respectively.[4] Two more by-elections took place on October 19, 1958 in Myślenice and Oleśnica.[16] In those by-elections, ZSL lost the seats to PZPR.[b]


Despite Gomułka's hopes, the elections, while victorious for him, did not mean the end of opposition to the communist rule.[17] For a while, support for the Gomułka-led communist party ran high.[18] Reflecting this, the period 1957-1963 is known as "little stabilization".[19] While his regime was much more liberal than the one he succeeded, this gave rive to an opposition within the PZPR party, as some communist politicians, like General Mieczysław Moczar, saw Gomułka as "too soft."[20] Meanwhile, dissension with the communist rule would grow, and the Polish 1970 protests, soon after the 1968 Polish political crisis, would eventually cause him to lose support with the PZPR party; suffering from nervous exhaustion, Gomułka would be forced to resign and replaced by Edward Gierek.[21][22]


a. ^ Staar (1958), Davies (2005) and majority of other sources report there were 459 seats. Diskin (2001:113) notes that in January 1957 there were 458 representatives. This illustrates the fact that one seat that did not get filled till the by-election in of 17 March 1957 at Nowy Sącz. A few sources incorrectly report that there were 458 seats available in the election.

b. ^ Staar (1958) reports results as cited by the Trybuna Ludu newspaper on January 27, 1957, and cites results of the February and March by-elections that year, as reported by Radio Warsaw in March and May that year. As his article was published in May 1958, his results thus cannot include the results of by-elections from October 1958. Michalski, Bardach and Ajnenkiel (1989) mention that two more by-elections occurred at that time, and Davies (2005) gives the results presumably corrected for by-elections results, indicating that two seats from ZSL went to PZPR.


  1. ^ Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p1491 ISBN 9783832956097
  2. ^ Jerzy Lukowski; W. H. Zawadzki (17 July 2006). A concise history of Poland. Cambridge University Press. pp. 295–296.  
  3. ^ (Polish) Sławomir Iwaniuk, Białorusini w wyborach do Sejmu PRL II kadencji 1957 roku , Białoruskie Zeszyty Historycznye Nr 6, pod red. E. Mironowicza, Białystok 1996, str. 130-165
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Richard F. Staar, Elections in Communist Poland, Midwest Journal of Political Science, Vol. 2, No. 2 (May, 1958), pp. 200-218, JSTOR
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l (Polish) Bartłomiej Kozłowski, Wybory styczniowe do Sejmu 1957 Last accessed on 5 April 2007
  6. ^ (Polish) Front Jedności Narodu in WIEM Encyklopedia
  7. ^ (Polish) Front Jedności Narodu in Encyklopedia PWN
  8. ^ a b Paweł Machcewicz, Kampania wyborcza i wybory do Sejmu 20 stycznia 1957 roku, Wydawnictwo Sejmowe, 2000, ISBN 83-7059-369-0 (blurb)
  9. ^ Arch Puddington (May 2003). Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. University Press of Kentucky. p. 121.  
  10. ^ Michael H. Bernhard (1993). The origins of democratization in Poland: workers, intellectuals, and oppositional politics, 1976-1980. Columbia University Press. p. 220.  
  11. ^ a b c d e f Norman Davies (May 2005). God's Playground: 1795 to the present. Columbia University Press. p. 459.  
  12. ^ Norman Davies (May 2005). God's Playground: 1795 to the present. Columbia University Press. p. 409.  
  13. ^ Andrzej Paczkowski; Jane Cave (2003). The spring will be ours: Poland and the Poles from occupation to freedom. Penn State Press. p. 229.  
  14. ^ a b Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 365.  
  15. ^ Tadeusz Mołdawa (1991). Ludzie władzy, 1944-1991: władze państwowe i polityczne Polski według stanu na dzień 28 II 1991. PWN. p. 57.  
  16. ^ Jerzy Michalski, Juliusz Bardach, Andrzej Ajnenkiel, Janina Zakrzewska, Tadeusz Mołdawa (1989). Historia sejmu polskiego: Polska Ludowa. Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. p. 288.  
  17. ^ Hanna Diskin (2001). The seeds of triumph: church and state in Gomułka's Poland. Central European University Press. p. 167.  
  18. ^ Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. pp. 365–366.  
  19. ^ Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 367.  
  20. ^ Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 385.  
  21. ^ Norman Davies (1982). God's Playground, a History of Poland: 1795 to the present. Columbia University Press. p. 591.  
  22. ^ Jacqueline Hayden (1994). Poles apart: Solidarity and the new Poland. Psychology Press. p. 12.  

Further reading

  • Jerzy Drygalski, Jacek Kwasniewski, No-Choice Elections, Soviet Studies, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1990), pp. 295–315, JSTOR
  • George Sakwa, Martin Crouch, Sejm Elections in Communist Poland: An Overview and a Reappraisal, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 403–424, JSTOR

External links

  • (Polish) Godziemba. „Październikowe” wybory do Sejmu 1957 roku. Polis
  • (Polish) List of members of Polish Sejm from 1957 to 1961 on Polish WorldHeritage
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