Public Release: 

Polish Parliamentarians More Independent Than Western European Colleagues

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

The Polish parliament -the Sejm- is more independent and plays a more important role in legislation than many parliaments in Western Europe, including the Netherlands. This is the conclusion reached by political scientists at Leiden University, who carried out a survey of 200 Polish members of parliament with financial support from NWO's Social Science Research Council. The Sejm also appears to have emerged in good shape from its battles with President Lech Walesa, who tried in various ways to extend his powers at the cost of the parliament.

The first seven years of democratic reform in Poland were marked by a power struggle between the President, the government and the Sejm, with the latter finally emerging victorious and gaining autonomy from both the President and the government. During the second Sejm (1993-97), Walesa consistently made use of the provisional nature of the "Little Constitution" of 1992, and the ambiguity of the constitutional provisions it contained, to abrogate greater powers to the Polish presidency. He also attempted to play off the governing parties against one another. However, his attempts at manipulation backfired and in fact only served to strengthen the cohesion of the parliament. Party-political differences were set aside so that the Sejm could present a united front against the ambitions of the President.

Because members of the Sejm ­including those who make up the governing parties­ make great use of their right to submit proposals for legislation, the Sejm also gained significant influence on the legislative process. During the second parliament, members submitted just as many bills as the government, which therefore had to compete with initiatives from within the Sejm. It appears, therefore, that Polish parliamentarians have more say in this respect than do their colleagues in many countries in Western Europe.

The Dutch political scientists expect that the introduction of the new Polish constitution in 1997 will stabilise relations between the presidency, the government and parliament. The role of the Sejm also hinges on its ability to continue to assert its independence, even if the government tries to impose its will on the governing parties. In order to do so, governing parties will, however, need to strengthen their internal coherence and discipline.

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