Politics of Poland

The politics of Poland take place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Sejm and the Senate. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Executive power is exercised by the government, which consists of a council of ministers led by the Prime Minister. Its members are typically chosen from a majority coalition in the lower house of parliament (the Sejm), although exceptions to this rule are not uncommon. The government is formally announced by the president, and must pass a motion of confidence in the Sejm within two weeks.

Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, Sejm and Senate. Members of parliament are elected by proportional representation, with the proviso that non-ethnic-minority parties must gain at least 5% of the national vote to enter the lower house. Currently four parties are represented. Parliamentary elections occur at least every four years.

The president, as the head of state, has the power to veto legislation passed by parliament, but otherwise has a mostly representative role. Presidential elections occur every 5 years.

The political system is defined in the Polish Constitution, which also guarantees a wide range of individual freedoms.

The judicial branch plays a minor role in politics, apart from the Constitutional Tribunal, which can annul laws that violate the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

Recent developments

In the autumn of 2005 Poles voted in both parliamentary and presidential elections. September's parliamentary poll was expected to produce a coalition of two centre-right parties, Law and Justice ("Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS") and Civic Platform ("Platforma Obywatelska, PO"). PiS eventually gained 27% of votes cast and became the largest party in the sejm ahead of PO on 24%. The out-going ruling party, the left-wing Democratic Left Alliance ("Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD"), achieved just 11%.

Presidential elections in October followed a similar script. The early favourite, Donald Tusk, leader of the PO, saw his opinion poll lead slip away and was beaten 54% to 46% in the second round by the PiS candidate Lech Kaczyński (one of the twins, founders of the party).

Both elections were blighted by low turn-outs -- only 51% in the second and deciding round of the presidential election, and just over 40% in the parliamentary election. The suggested cause of the low turnout is popular disillusionment with politicians.

Coalition talks ensued simultaneously with the presidential elections. However, the severity of the campaign attacks and the willingness of PiS to court the populist vote had soured the relationship between the two largest parties and made the creation of a stable coalition impossible. The ostensible stumbling blocks were the insistence of PiS that it control all aspects of law enforcement: the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs, and the special forces; as well as the forcing through of a PiS candidate for the head of the Sejm with help of several smaller populist parties. The PO decided to go into opposition.

PiS then formed a minority government with the previously little-known Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as Prime Minister instead of party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński who remained influential in the background. This government relied on the tacit and rather stable support of smaller populist and agrarian parties (PSL, Samoobrona, LPR) to govern.

The new government enjoyed quite strong public support (as is, in fact, generally common in the first few months after an election), while the popularity of the populist parties giving it support has significantly waned. With this background, a parliamentary crisis appeared to loom in January 2006, with these small populist parties fearing that PiS was about to force new elections (on which they would lose out) by using the pretext of failing to pass the budget within the constitutional timeframe. However, this crisis appears to have abated.

In July 2006, following a rift with his party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, Marcinkiewicz tendered his resignation as Prime Minister and was replaced by Kaczyński, who formed a new government. This government lasted until October 2007, when Donald Tusk's PO gained the lead again, and Kaczýnski announced to go into opposition.

Executive branch

Lech Kaczyński
none, formerly PiS
December 23, 2005
Prime Minister
Donald Tusk
November 16, 2007The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, the prime minister and deputy prime ministers are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Sejm. The Council of Ministers is responsible to the prime minister and the Sejm; the prime minister proposes, the president appoints, and the Sejm approves the Council of Ministers.

Legislative branch

The Polish Parliament has two chambers. The lower chamber ("Sejm") has 460 members, elected for a four year term by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies using the d'Hondt method similar to that used in many parliamentary political systems, with a 5 % threshold (8% for coalitions, threshold waived for national minorities). The Senate ("Senat") has 100 members elected for a four year term in 40 multi-seat constituencies under a rare plurality bloc voting method where several candidates with the highest support are elected from each electorate. When sitting in joint session, members of the Sejm and Senate form the National Assembly, (Polish "Zgromadzenie Narodowe"). The National Assembly is formed on three occasions: Taking the oath of office by a new president, bringing an indictment against the President of the Republic to the Tribunal of State, and declaration of a President's permanent incapacity to exercise their duties due to the state of their health. Only the first kind has occurred to date. Since 1991 elections are supervised by the National Electoral Commission ("Państwowa Komisja Wyborcza"), whose administrative division is called the National Electoral Office ("Krajowe Biuro Wyborcze").

Developments since 2000

In the presidential election of 2000, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the incumbent former leader of the post-communist SLD, was re-elected in the first round of voting, with 53.9% of the popular vote. Second place, with only 17.3%, went to Andrzej Olechowski. It is thought that the opposition campaign was hindered by their inability to put forward a charismatic (or even a single major) candidate, as well as falling support for the centre-right AWS government. This was related to internal friction in the ruling parliamentary coalition.

The (then) fresh Constitution and the reformed administrative division (as of 1999) required a revision of the electoral system, which was passed in April 2001. The most important changes were: 1) the final liquidation of the party list (previously, some of the members of parliament were elected from a party list, based on nationwide voter support, rather than from local constituencies), and 2) modification of the method of allocating seats to the Sainte-Laguë method, which gave less premium to large parties. Incidentally, this change was soon reverted back to the d'Hondt method in 2002.

The September 2001 parliamentary elections in 2001 saw the SLD (successor to the communist party twice removed) triumph on the back of voter dissolusionment with the AWS government and internal bickering within that bloc. So much so that this former ruling party did not enter parliament due to falling below the 8% threshold for coalitions. (Symptomatically, they had failed to form a formal political party, which has only a 5% threshold, and formally remained a "coalition" of parties).

The SLD went on to form a coalition with the agrarian PSL and leftist UP, with Leszek Miller as Prime Minister.

A leading issue in the subsequent years was negotiations with the European Union regarding accession and internal preparation for this. Poland joined the EU in May 2004. Both President Kwaśniewski and the government were vocal in their support for this cause. The only party decidedly opposed to EU entry was the populist right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR).

Despite broad popular support for joining the EU, which was considered an overriding issue, the government rapidly lost popularity due to incompetence on various issues (e.g. building of motorways, and a botched reform of the health system), a general economic slump, and numerous corruption scandals. The most famous of these were the Rywin affair (an alleged attempt to interfere with the legislative process, so named after the main suspect Lew Rywin) -- this case was investigated by a special parliamentary committee, whose proceedings were televised and widely followed), and the Starachowice affair (government ministers informed friends with links to organised crime about an impending raid).

In March some prominent SLD politicians and MPs (including the then Speaker of the Sejm: Marek Borowski) formed a split, creating the new SDPL party. The cabinet led by Leszek Miller resigned on May 2, 2004, just after Poland's admission to the European Union.

A new cabinet was formed, with Marek Belka as prime minister. After two initial unsuccessful attempts, it eventually won parliamentary support (24 June) and governed until the parliamentary elections in late 2005. Several of the new ministers were seen as non-partisan experts, and the government was considered a marked improvement upon the previous cabinet. This did not carry over into any rise in voter support for the SLD, however, even despite an economic upturn through 2005. Part of the reason being that this government was considered to be largely apart from the party backbone, and only held in office by the fear of early elections by the majority of the MPs.

A fear not unfounded, as the SLD saw its support drop by three-fourths to only 11% in the subsequent elections.

Political parties and elections

Some contemporary Polish politicians in alphabetical order:
Leszek Balcerowicz, Marek Belka, Marek Borowski, Bogdan Borusewicz, Jerzy Buzek, Ludwik Dorn, Bronisław Geremek, Roman Giertych, Zyta Gilowska, Danuta Hübner, Marek Jurek, Jarosław Kaczyński, Lech Kaczyński, Jarosław Kalinowski, Bronisław Komorowski, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Andrzej Lepper, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Stefan Meller, Wojciech Olejniczak, Zbigniew Religa, Jan Rokita, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Donald Tusk, Zbigniew Wassermann, Zbigniew Ziobro.

See :main|List of politicians in Poland

National security

Poland's top national security goal is to further integrate with NATO and other west European defense, economic, and political institutions via a modernization and reorganization of its military. Polish military doctrine reflects the same defense nature as its NATO partners.

Poland maintains a sizable armed force recently counted at 175,343 troops divided among an army of 96,733, an air and defense force of 39,649, and a navy of 15,980. The Ministry of Defense has announced that the armed forces of Poland will number 150,000 by 2006. Poland relies on military conscription for the majority of its personnel strength. All males (with some exceptions) are subject to a 9-month term of military service.

The Polish military continues to restructure and to modernize its equipment. The Polish Defense Ministry General Staff and the Land Forces staff have recently reorganized the latter into a NATO-compatible J/G-1 through J/G-6 structure. Budget constraints hamper such priority defense acquisitions as a multi-role fighter, improved communications systems, and an attack helicopter.

Poland continues to be a regional leader in support and participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program and has actively engaged most of its neighbors and other regional actors to build stable foundations for future European security arrangements. Poland continues its long record of strong support for UN Peacekeeping Operations by maintaining a unit in Southern Lebanon, a battalion in NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR), and by providing and actually deploying the KFOR strategic reserve to Kosovo. Poland is a strong ally of the US in Europe and leads the Multinational Division Central South in Iraq.

Biuro Ochrony Rządu

The Biuro Ochrony Rządu (BOR), or Government Protection Bureau, is Poland's equivalent of the Secret Service in the United States- providing antiterrorism and VIP security detail services for the government. [ [http://www.bor.pl/index_en.php Biuro Ochrony Rządu] retrieved 2007-07-25]

Administrative divisions

Poland is divided in 16 provinces or Voivodeships ("województwa", singular - "województwo"); Lower Silesia, Kuyavia-Pomerania, Łódź, Lubelskie, Lubusz, Lesser Poland, Masovia, Opole, Subcarpathia, Podlaskie, Pomerania, Silesia, Świętokrzyskie, Warmia-Masuria, Greater Poland, and West Pomerania.


ee also

*Political parties in Poland
*Liberalism in Poland
*Far right in Poland
*Anarchism in Poland

External links

* [http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060708/ap_on_re_eu/poland_prime_minister Poland Now Led by Twin Brothers]
* [http://www.ku.edu/~herron/ Erik Herron's Guide to Politics of East Central Europe and Eurasia]
* [http://www.pgb.org.pl/info/akt_105.pdf PGB surveys]

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