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Semi-Presidentialism in Europe$
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Robert Elgie

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198293866

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198293860.001.0001

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(p.170) 9 Poland
Semi-Presidentialism in Europe

Ania Van Der Meer Krok‐Paszkowska

Oxford University Press

The eight years of post‐communist democratic rule in Poland have been marked by a struggle between rival constitutional agendas, and although the institutional set‐up has remained the same as under the 1989 Roundtable Agreement (a dual executive and a dual legislature), the formal competencies and effective powers of these institutions have changed over time. There were two stages in the constitution‐making process: the round table negotiations leading to constitutional amendments, and the regular constitution‐making process. The transition to democracy was to have been gradual and controlled with a new constitution being passed before the first fully competitive parliamentary elections in 1993. Instead, democratic institutions emerged in a stepwise and piecemeal manner with political events overtaking constitutional initiatives. Minor amendments were made to the 1952 constitution in anticipation of a completely new constitution being passed relatively quickly, but when it became clear that the two houses of parliament would be unable to agree on a common draft, a stopgap constitution was passed which dealt only with executive–legislative relations. The often ambiguous provisions of this 1992 Little Constitution were interpreted by various political forces in ways that bolstered their respective institutional powers, and its passing did not lead to a less heated debate between those who wanted a ‘governing’ president and those who favoured a figurehead president with weak powers. A semi‐presidential system is in place, but its nature has been the source of institutional squabbles throughout the period considered here (1989–97), with the balance of power moving very much in favour of the prime minister. The constitution‐making process was formally completed in the summer of 1997 with the passing of the full constitution by a legislature dominated by parties with roots in the former communist regime. Its confirmation by referendum was by a narrow majority, and the numerous political parties and organizations not represented in the 1993–97 legislature have vowed to reopen negotiations on certain constitutional provisions in the next parliamentary term. The different parts of this chapter discuss the historical context, constitutional powers under the Little Constitution, political practice, and the writing of the second constitution.

Keywords:   constitution, constitutional powers, constitution‐making, dual executive, dual legislature, institutional powers, institutions, Little Constitution, parliament, Poland, post‐communist democratic rule, semi‐presidentialism, transition to democracy

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