April 2016Focus2016

Focus on Political Systems: Poland

By Mark Turon
Staff Writer

The Republic of Poland has many similarities to other democracies such as the United States. Poland contains a national assembly and two legislative houses that are known as the Senate, or upper house, and the Sejm, or the lower house.

The Sejm is an ancient Slavic term meaning “gathering” so not only is the Sejm something of tradition, but it also represents history. However, Sejm was also used to collectively name all three chambers of parliamentary authority comprising the lower house, upper house, and the monarchy during the years when Poland was a kingdom.

Poland’s government has endured through the years from kingdom to commonwealth to second republic to the current republic. After the collapse of the communist regime of Poland in 1989, the historical bicameral assembly, the Senate and the Sejm, was reinstated.

Today the Sejm is composed of 460 deputies elected based on the proportion of the votes they garner in the national election. In other words, if a party received fifty percent of the vote, then that party would earn about fifty percent of the seats to fill with their candidates.

Public participation is similar to in the United States as both nations are representative democracy, meaning that the people elect a small group of representatives to represent them in government to handle the political problems that take place within government. Polish citizens elect 460 representatives to the Sejm and 100 representatives to the Senate.

Although any candidate from any political party is allowed to campaign for positions within the national assembly, if the candidate’s party cannot obtain at least five percent of the vote from the national electorate, then they will not be eligible to take elected positions that term.

The judicial system is where Poland greatly differentiates itself from the United States. In Poland, the judicial branch plays a far greater role in decision-making. Within the judicial branch there are four major institutions, which include the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland, Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic, Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland, and the State Tribunal of the Republic of Poland. Each of the judicial institutions has an active role in parliament. Based on the approval from the Senate, the Sejm also appoints a Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection. This commissioner position is tasked with guarding the implementation of the rights and liberties of citizens to the laws passed for the country.

Three months ago in January, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a bill that brought the media under direct control of the state. The Law and Justice Party radically changed the way the constitutional court handles its rulings by requiring a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority and the number of judges increased from nine to thirteen. The judges were elected from the Law and Justice Party specifically. In response to these rulings, hundreds have gathered in cities around Poland to protest calling the rulings as bringing about the degradation of democracy, according to Deutsche Welle.

Regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told the Middle East Eye that Christian refugees would be more welcome in Poland, explaining, “I am saying this with full awareness avoiding any political correctness … Security is more significant than any beautiful ideals.”

For these reasons, among others, protesters have taken to the streets, according to the New York Times. The current political problems in Poland have prompted the European Commission to open a threestep inquiry whether Poland is violating the union’s democratic norms.

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