IRI's program in Poland began in 1991 with a focus on political party development and coalition building. In addition to helping democratic parties that emerged after 1989 build organizations and learn to campaign effectively, IRI placed great emphasis on efforts to promote unity among Poland's highly fragmented center and center-right political parties. These efforts paid off in 1996, when nearly 40 center-right parties and movements formed an electoral coalition - Election Action Solidarity (AWS) - and, after winning parliamentary elections in 1997, initiated concrete steps toward unification.
IRI's early joint-policy conferences provided a foundation for future success by bringing the feuding parties together on common policy ground. In 1995 and 1996 IRI intensified its coalition development programs, conducting opinion polls for the center and center-right parties and convening working groups on party cooperation and assimilation.
In 1997, IRI helped the center and center-right parties ready themselves for the autumn parliamentary elections with campaign and communications training, along with training in parliamentary processes for AWS candidates. Though prospective in nature, the parliamentary program successfully identified future MPs and helped them get off to a fast start when they entered the Polish Sejm.
IRI also initiated a very important process in 1997 that strengthened the coalition during the election campaign and stimulated thinking about transforming AWS from an electoral coalition into a unified political party. IRI research, and recommendations made to AWS President Marian Krzaklewski, resulted in the formation of a high-level task force charged with exploring the issue and presenting Krzaklewski with options. The effort ultimately resulted in creation of a new party - AWS Social Movement (RSAWS) - which was registered in December 1997. Though the problem of a fragmented center-right was not solved, this was a concrete first step forward.
In addition to its work with parties and coalitions, IRI also helped Polish youth organizations overcome apathy among younger Poles and reverse their history of low voter turnout. IRI's program attracted private funding and generated widespread participation. Student groups organized candidate debates around the country where leading candidates spoke on the issues. Nearly 40,000 students also participated in a "mock election," which not only raised awareness about the election among all Poles, but also gave an early signal of young voters' support for AWS and Freedom Union, the current governing parties .
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