2.2 Central level

The central legislature

The Polish Parliament consists of two legislative bodies. The lower house is called Sejm, and Senate is the upper house. 460 elected deputies sit in Sejm, and 100 senators in the Senate. Candidates standing for Sejm must be citizens of Poland, enjoying full public rights and aged at least 21 on the day of the election. Candidates to the Senate must be 30 years old.

Deputies (members of Sejm) are returned for the electoral constituency where they won their mandate. Most constituency borders coincide with those of one or several communes. In large cities constituencies may be smaller in area. During a parliamentary vote, neither members of Sejm nor senators are bound in any way by the instructions of their electorate, but do have the constitutional obligation to be guided by the well-being of the entire Republic.

The Polish political system is based on a party system. In the parliamentary, presidential, and local elections candidates supported by significant political parties stand a better chance of success. Parliamentarians belonging to the same political group create their parliamentary "clubs" within the Sejm and Senate. In practice most of the bills and legislative amendments are brought to the House through the parliamentary clubs.

Parliamentary deputies participate in Sejm sessions and have the right to question members of the Council of Ministers; they work in numerous, permanent or special, committees attached to Sejm or Senate, and established to review various issues related to state administration and public life.

Parliamentary work is coordinated by its statutory bodies:

  • Marshals (Speakers) of the Sejm and Senate
  • Sejm and Senate Boards (marshals and deputy marshals)
  • The Caucus of Seniors (marshals, deputy marshals and chairpersons of parliamentary clubs)
  • Sejm and Senate committees

The central executive

The President

The President plays an important but rather formal role in the Polish political system. In accordance with the current Constitution, the President of the Republic of Poland is the head of state, the supreme representative of Poland and the guarantor of the continuity of government. This means that the President heads the executive authority, is appointed to represent Polish interests on the international arena, ensures the observance of the Constitution, and is responsible for the security of the state. The President calls elections to Sejm and Senate and in extraordinary situations has the right to shorten their terms. He can call a national referendum in matters important for the state, requiring the decision of all the citizens (e.g. concerning the accession to the European Union).

The President has a free choice in selecting the Prime Minister, yet in practice he usually does not give the task of forming a new government to a politician who does not command a majority in Sejm.
The President has the opportunity to influence directly the legislative process by using his veto to stop a bill; however, his veto can be overruled by a 3/5 majority vote in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of members of Sejm (230). Before signing a bill and making it law, the President can also ask the Constitutional Tribunal to verify its compliance with the Constitution, which in practice bears a decisive influence on the legislative process.
In his role of supreme representative of the Polish state, the President ratifies and revokes international agreements, nominates and recalls ambassadors and accepts the accreditations of representatives of other states. The President also makes decisions on the award of state titles, degrees, ranks, distinctions and orders. In addition, he has the right of clemency, namely he can dismiss final court verdicts (in practice, the President consults such decisions with the Minister of Justice).
The President is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He appoints the Chief of General Staff and the commanders of all the armed forces: the Land Forces, the Air Forces, and the Navy. In wartime he nominates the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and can order general mobilization. The President performs his duties with the help of the following offices: the Chancellery of the President, the Office of National Security, and the Body of Advisors to the President.

The Council of Ministers (Government)

The Council of Ministers (Government) consists of the Prime Minister (officially the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers), ministers, heads of departments of ministerial rank, and heads of some central institutions. The Council of Ministers is the body which exercises executive power. Under the Public Administration Branches Act the Prime Minister enjoys a considerable degree of freedom in decisions concerning its personnel.

The Council of Ministers also manages the current policy of state, ensures the execution of the law by issuing ordinances, coordinates and controls the work of government administrative bodies, ensures public order and the internal and external security of the state, protects the interests of the State Treasury, approves the draft of the budget, and supervises its execution. The Council of Ministers also signs international agreements which require ratification, and can revoke other international agreements.

Members of the Council of Ministers are jointly responsible to Sejm for the operation of the government; they can also be individually responsible for the tasks entrusted to them by the Prime Minister or falling within the authority of their ministries. Any breach of the law or crime related to the offices they hold carry the risk of trial before the State Tribunal, a special court appointed by Sejm, in which members of Sejm act as judges.

The Prime Minister may create, combine, or dissolve departments, change their area of responsibility, and even apply to the President to expand the Council of Ministers to include ministers without portfolio, or coordinators for projects performed by the Council of Ministers, e.g. reform of the educational system or health service. Designated Prime Minister is free to select his co-workers - members of the Council of Ministers. The government he selects must be approved by the Sejm by granting him the vote of confidence, what in practice requires the parliamentary majority. Ministerial nominations are signed and handed out by the President of the Republic of Poland.

The Prime Minister represents the Council of Ministers and directs their work, supervises territorial self-government within the guidelines and in ways described in the Constitution and other legislation, and acts as the superior for all government administration workers.

At the same time, the Prime Minister may fulfill the duties of a department head or a committee chairman. The Prime Minister may also be a deputy of the Parliament. He cannot, however, hold the post of the President or any other high state office such as the Chairman of the NIK (Supreme Chamber of Control), Chairman of the NBP (National Bank of Poland) or a Civil Rights Spokesman (Ombudsman).

The Constitution of the Republic of Poland safeguards a stable rule of parliamentary majority, so the dismissal of the Prime Minister from his post before the end of the term of the Sejm is complicated and difficult to achieve. Due to dispersion of Polish political scene, most of governments created under democratic conditions since 1990 were result of a coalition.

The Prime Minister dissolves the Council of Ministers at the first session of the newly elected Sejm, as well as in the case of: failure to pass by the Sejm of the vote of confidence for the Council of Ministers, passing of the vote of no confidence, or resignation for any other reasons. Accepting the resignation of the Council of Ministers, the President of the Republic asks them to continue to perform their duties until the new Council of Ministers has been selected, thus preserving the continuity of government and control over the actions of the government administration.

The Council of Ministers is represented in the different voivodships of the country by its voivodes or regional governors. There are 16 of them - one for each voivodship. The voivodes supervise the state administration within the territory of their voivodship.

The judiciary

In Poland the courts, with the Supreme Court at their head, together with the independent State Tribunal and Constitutional Tribunal, ensure the independence of the judiciary.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort of appeal against judgments in the lower courts. It also passes resolutions to clarify specific legal provisions and resolve disputable questions in specific cases. The Supreme Court supervises the adjudication in:

  • General courts - these are district, voivodship, and appeal courts. They adjudicate in the areas of civil, criminal, family and labor law.
  • Military courts - that is circuit and garrison courts. They deal with matters relating to crimes committed by soldiers in active service, civilian employees in military units, and prisoners of war. 
  • Administrative courts - a separate court system which deals with adjudication on the legal compliance of decisions taken by administrative bodies. It also settles cases between legal persons (corporations) or private citizens and administrative bodies.

The President of the Republic of Poland appoints Supreme Court judges. This is done upon a motion of the National Judicial Council. The President also selects the First President of the Supreme Court from candidates presented by the General Assembly of the Supreme Court of Justice. The First President of this Court holds office for a six-year term, though he or she may be dismissed by Sejm upon a motion by the President of the Republic of Poland.

The Constitutional Tribunal

The Constitutional Tribunal is a judicial body established to resolve disputes on the constitutionality of the activities of state institutions; its main task is to supervise the compliance of statutory law with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. The Constitutional Tribunal adjudicates on the compliance with the Constitution of legislation and international agreements (also their ratification), on disputes over the powers of central constitutional bodies, and on compliance with the Constitution of the aims and activities of political parties. It also rules on constitutional complaints. The Constitutional Tribunal is made up of 15 judges chosen by Sejm for nine-year terms. They are fully independent. The Constitutional Tribunal constitutes one of the formal guarantees of a state grounded on the rule of law.

The Tribunal of State

The Tribunal of State is the judicial body, which rules on the constitutional liability of people holding the highest offices of state. It examines cases concerning the infringement of the Constitution and laws or crimes committed by the President of the Republic of Poland, members of the Council of Ministers, the President of the Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK), the President of the National Bank of Poland (NBP), heads of central administrative offices and other senior state officials.

The Tribunal of State is empowered to rule for the removal of individuals from public office, to impose injunctions on individuals against their appointment to senior offices, to revoke an individual's right to vote and to stand for election, to withdraw previously awarded medals, distinctions, and titles of honour and in criminal cases to impose penalties stipulated in the criminal code.

The composition of the Tribunal of State is established at the first sitting of each new Sejm and is binding for its term. The head of the office is the First President of the Supreme Court. His two deputies and 16 members of the State Tribunal are chosen from outside the Sejm. Members of the State Tribunal must hold Polish citizenship, may not have a criminal record or have had their civic rights did not revoke, nor may they be employed in the state administration.