The presidency was established by the Round Table Agreement to replace the communist-era Council of State as the primary executive organ of government. According to the agreement, the president was to be elected by the National Assembly to a term of six years. Although not the head of government (that function was performed by the prime minister), the president was empowered to veto legislation and had control of the armed forces. The negotiators of the Round Table Agreement clearly crafted the presidency with the expectation that General Jaruzelski would be its first incumbent. A Jaruzelski presidency would have ensured PZPR compliance with the concessions the party had made in the agreement. Moreover, Jaruzelski was expected to be effective in protecting the new political arrangements from Soviet interference. After solidarity succeeded in forming a noncommunist coalition government in mid-1989, however, Jaruzelski lost most of his powers, and the presidency became a largely ceremonial office. The office changed drastically when Walesa became Poland's first popularly elected president in late 1990.
A constitutional amendment in the spring of 1990 provided for direct popular election of the president to a five-year term with a limit of one reelection. Any Polish citizen at least thirtyfive years of age was eligible to appear on the ballot after obtaining 100,000 nominating signatures.
If accused of violating the constitution and Polish law, the president could be indicted before the State Tribunal if twothirds of the National Assembly so voted. Upon indictment, the president would be relieved temporarily of the duties of office. A guilty verdict from the State Tribunal would bring expulsion from office. The presidency also could be vacated because of physical unfitness to hold the office, as determined by the National Assembly. In such circumstances, the Sejm speaker would temporarily assume the duties of the presidency until a new president could be sworn in.
The president's duties include protecting the constitution; safeguarding the sovereignty, security, and territorial inviolability of the Polish state; and overseeing adherence to international agreements and treaties. The constitution authorizes the president to call for elections to the Sejm, Senate, and county councils. The president also appoints diplomatic representatives and officially receives foreign diplomats; acts as commander in chief of the armed forces; calls and presides over emergency sessions of the Council of Ministers; and performs other duties assigned the chief of state by the constitution or by law.
A critical duty of the president is naming the head of government, the prime minister. The Little Constitution amends the procedure prescribed for this function. Originally, the president nominated the prime minister, but the Sejm had to approve both that nomination and the prime minister's cabinet choices that followed. The Little Constitution specifies that the president designate the prime minister and appoint the cabinet upon consultation with the prime minister. Within two weeks, however, the new government must receive the Sejm's confirmation (by a simple majority of the deputies present voting in favor). If the government is not confirmed, the Sejm then has the responsibility to nominate and confirm its own candidate, again by a majority vote. If the Sejm fails in this attempt, the president has another chance, this time with the lesser requirement that more votes be cast for approval than for nonapproval. Finally, if the president's choice again fails, the Sejm would attempt to confirm its own candidate by the lesser vote. If no candidate can be confirmed, the president has the option of dissolving parliament or appointing a six-month interim government. During the interim period, if the Sejm does not confirm the government, or one of its own choosing, parliament automatically would be dissolved.
The constitution grants the president certain legislative prerogatives, including the right to propose legislation; to veto acts of the National Assembly (the Sejm could overrule such a veto with a two-thirds majority); to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to judge the constitutionality of legislation; and to issue decrees and instructions on the implementation of laws. The president ratifies or terminates international agreements but needs prior approval from the Sejm to ratify agreements involving sizable financial liability on the state or changes in legislation.
If national security were threatened, the president could declare martial law and announce a partial or full mobilization. He or she could also introduce a state of emergency for a period of up to three months in case of a threat to domestic tranquility or natural disaster. A one-time extension of a state of emergency, not to exceed three months, could be declared with the approval of both houses of the National Assembly.
|Country Studies main page | Poland Country Studies main page|