The Sejm plays a vital role in the governmental system of Poland. This fact is attributable to the long historic tradition of our country, its political culture and contemporary experiences in the field of political governance expressed in the provisions of the 1997 Constitution. According to this Constitution, the Republic of Poland is a democratic State ruled by law, whose system rests on the principle of the separation and balance of powers. The Constitution recognises the inherent, inalienable and inviolable dignity of people as a source of rights and freedoms. The fulfilment of those values and principles makes indispensable a democratically elected Parliament which would create law and control the activities of the executive power.
The Constitution vests legislative power in the Sejm and the Senate, executive power in the President and the Council of Ministers, and judicial power - in courts and tribunals. Thus the Sejm shares its legislative function with the Senate; simultaneously, it is part of the governmental system in Poland. The legislative competence of both Chambers is not symmetrical. The Constitution provides the Sejm with a dominant role in the legislative process. This does not apply to statutes which amend the Constitution or statutes which permit the ratification of international treaties, on the basis of which the Republic of Poland delegates certain competence of the State organs to an international organisation or international body. In the case of the statutes in question, neither the opinion of the Sejm nor that of the Senate enjoys superiority guaranteed by the Constitution.
The inequality of the two Chambers of the Polish Parliament is also expressed in the fact that only the Sejm is vested with the right to control the Council of Ministers. The Sejm and the Senate, sitting jointly in the instances provided for in the Constitution, act as the National Assembly.
Nonetheless, the bicameral structure of the Polish Parliament does play an important role in the overall governmental system - mainly as a reference to the historical tradition of the Republic of the past.
The Constitution shapes a delicate system of balance between particular powers of the State, which is described as a parliamentary-cabinet system with a slight inclination towards the presidential system. Only the Parliament can pass statutes to which the Constitution grants a special role in the system of sources of law as regards the determination of the legal position of the citizens. The dominance of the Sejm over the Senate in the legislative process is constitutionally guaranteed; the Sejm may also (by a three-fifths majority vote, in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of Deputies) reenact a statute which has been referred by the President for reconsideration.
Neither the President nor the government have the authority to proclaim acts which would have the force of statute (excluding regulations which have the force of statute issued by the President during martial law). At the same time, however, the legislative activity of the Parliament is submitted to the control of the Constitutional Tribunal. As regards the relations between the Sejm and the executive powers, it is worth noticing that the President may shorten the term of office of the Sejm only in instances specified in the Constitution. According to the latter, the President is the supreme representative of the Republic of Poland and the guarantor of the continuity of State authority. He is elected for a five-year term of office in universal, equal, direct and proportional elections, conducted by secret ballot; the President does not bear political responsibility towards the Parliament nor either of the two Chambers; the National Assembly, formed by the Sejm and the Senate sitting together, has the power (by a majority of at least two-thirds of the statutory number of members) to bring an indictment against the President for an infringement of the Constitution or statute, as well as for the commission of an offence. The President may be held accountable also to the Tribunal of State; on the day on which the National Assembly adopts the respective resolution, he is suspended from discharging all functions of his office.
The Sejm's confidence (expressed by an absolute majority vote in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of Deputies) forms an indispensable premise for the existence of a government composed by the President. However, if, during the creation of the government it should become clear that the Sejm is not in a position to grant a vote of confidence even with a simple majority vote, in the presence of least half of the statutory number of Deputies, then the President shortens the term of office of the Sejm.
The government is subject to the control of the Sejm. Members of the government and the Council of Ministers bear full political responsibility to the Sejm; the latter may also hold the members of the Council of Ministers constitutionally accountable to the Tribunal of State.
The Sejm is composed of 460 Deputies, elected in universal, equal, direct and proportional elections, conducted by secret ballot. The Senate consists of 100 Senators, elected in universal and direct elections, by secret ballot. According to the Constitution, both the Deputies and the Senators are representatives of the Nation and are not bound by the instructions of their electorate.
The term of office, that is the term during which the mandate of the Sejm remains valid, amounts to 4 years and commences on the day the Sejm assembles for the first sitting after the election; it ends on the day preceding the assembly of the Sejm of the succeeding term of office; there is no interim period. The mandate of the Senate begins and expires together with the mandate of the Sejm.
The Sejm may shorten its term of office by a resolution passed by a majority of at least two-thirds of the votes of the statutory number of Deputies (i.e. the resolution must be adopted by no less than 307 Deputies); this means a simultaneous shortening of the term of office of the Senate. Such resolutions, however, may not be adopted during a period of introduction of extraordinary measures and within the period of 90 days following its termination.
The shortening of the term of office of the Sejm may also take place on the basis of a Presidential decision. The President is obliged to make such a decision if the Sejm proves to be unable to pass a vote of confidence in the government created by him or to form its own government. The President may also decide to shorten the Sejm's term of office (he has the power but not the obligation to do so) if, after 4 months from the day of the submission of the Budget to the Sejm, it has not been presented to the President for signature.
The Sejm works in accordance with the principle of permanence - there is no division of the term of office into sessions and periods between sessions; sittings of the Sejm are open to the public. The Sejm may resolve to hold a debate in secret (by an absolute majority vote taken in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of Deputies), if the interest of the State so requires.