In a previous post on Ukraine, I posed the question of when countries in the former Soviet Union should start to be classed as semi-presidential. This is, for me, an important question because in the near chaos of the collapse of communism/declarations of independence most of these countries reacted by simply grafting a directly elected president on to their Soviet-era parliamentary-like constitutions. These countries then held direct presidential elections and only subsequently set about drafting a new constitution. Sometimes, there was up to a five year gap between the fall of communism and new consolidated constitutions. Given this blog uses a constitutional definition of semi-presidentialism, I need to know when a country was constitutionally semi-presidential in order to determine its start date. However, this is no easy task. The initial changes were often made by way of piecemeal laws that are often difficult to obtain.
Anyway, this week I was able to resolve at least one country to which this question is relevant. Even though it was, obviously, not part of the former USSR, Poland underwent a similar amendment process when the communist system began to collapse. Having identified various documents and with the kind help of a friendly Polish-speaking colleague, I have been able to piece together Poland’s semi-presidential history. The information in this post will not be news to Poland experts, but at least it helps to get the information out to a wider audience.
Poland’s constitution dated back to 1952. In April 1989 Round-Table Talks were held between the communists and the Solidarity opposition. This led to the delightfully named ‘April Novelization’ of 7 April 1989 that changed the constitution. With regard to semi-presidentialism, the key amendment was the creation of the office of a president of Poland. This institution replaced the communist-style collective institutions. However, at this time the president was elected by parliament. In December 1989 there were further amendments that, in effect, ended the communist system, but these amendments did not affect the presidency etc. Instead, the significant change came in September 1990 when another amendment was passed that created a directly elected presidency. The first direct election was held in December 1990. A new but nonetheless interim constitution was passed in 1992 and the current constitution dates from 1997.
I have the text of the various amendments (in Polish!), but they are not publicly available, as far as I know. I was able to access them via a library subscription from my home institution. If you would like a copy, then please just let me know.
The bottom line is that semi-presidentialism in Poland dates from September 1990.