Poland Table of Contents
The Round Table Agreement brought a number of amendments that substantially altered the 1952 Constitution. The so-called April Amendments resurrected the traditional Polish constitutional concept of separation of powers. The legislative branch would again be bicameral after four decades of a single, 460-member Sejm. The new body included a freely elected 100-member Senate and retained the 460-member Sejm as its lower chamber. Power would be distributed among the houses of parliament and the newly established Office of the President, which was to assume many of the executive powers previously held by the Council of State. The April Amendments provided for election of the president by the two houses of parliament.
In December 1989, the new parliament made several additional, highly symbolic amendments to the 1952 constitution to rid the document of Marxist terminology. The PZPR lost its special status when its identification as the political guiding force in Polish society was deleted from the constitution. The hated words "People's Republic" would be discarded and the state's official name would be restored to the prewar "Republic of Poland." Article 2 was revised to read "Supreme authority in the Republic of Poland is vested in the People," amending the Marxist phrase "the working people." The amendments of December 1989 also wrote into law the equality of all forms of property ownership, the essential first step in establishing a market economy.
Aware that piecemeal revision of the Stalinist 1952 constitution would not meet the needs of a democratic Polish society, in December 1989 the Sejm created a Constitutional Commission to write a fully democratic document untainted by association with Poland's communist era. The next year, the National Assembly (the combined Sejm and Senate) prescribed the procedure by which the draft would be enacted. The document would require approval by a two-thirds vote of both assembly houses in joint session, followed by a national referendum. Theoretically, this procedure would bolster the constitution's legitimacy against doubts created by the dubious political credentials of some of its authors.
Chaired by one of the Solidarity movement's most brilliant intellectuals, Bronislaw Geremek, the Sejm Constitutional Commission faced serious obstacles from the outset. The legitimacy of the Sejm itself was at issue because the Round Table Agreement had allowed Solidarity to contest only 35 percent of the Sejm seats. Claiming that its open election in 1989 made it more representative of the popular will, the Senate condemned the Sejm Constitutional Commission and began working on its own version of a new constitution. In reality, however the Senate was not an accurate cross section of Polish society because it lacked representatives from the peasants and the political left. Subsequent efforts to form a joint Sejm-Senate constitutional commission proved futile.
After his victory in the December 1990 presidential election, Walesa cast further doubt on the commission's activity by challenging the credentials of the existing Sejm. Nevertheless, the commission continued its work and presented a fairly complete draft constitution by the spring of 1991. The draft was based on the two series of amendments passed in 1989. It also borrowed heavily from various Western constitutions, most notably the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The draft was soon discarded, however, because of the Sejm's undemocratic constituency; for the same reason, the commission as such ceased to exist in 1991.
In the first half of 1992, attention shifted to the so-called Little Constitution, a document that used much of the 1991 draft in redefining the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government and clarifying the division of power between the president and the prime minister. The Little Constitution was to be a compromise that would solidify as many democratic institutions as possible before all constitutional controversies could be resolved. Nevertheless, the new document would supersede all but a few provisions of the 1952 constitution and provide the basis for a full constitution when remaining points of dispute could be resolved. Its drafts retained the statement that Poland was a democratic state of law guided by principles of social justice. Agencies such as the Constitutional Tribunal, the State Tribunal, and the Office of the Commissioner for Citizens Rights were also retained (see Judicial System , this ch.).
Data as of October 1992
Poland Table of Contents