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Poland From the Inside.

[33]
The Constitution

The Polish Constitution guarantees all citizens liberty of conscience, freedom of speech and right of assembly. This is not really allowed, of course. Newspapers are seized and speakers arrested. But the Constitution would be excellent, if only it were carried out. The Ukrainians and Germans suffer particularly owing to this. There are two chambers, the Sejm, or Diet, and the Senate. The Sejm consists of 208 deputies chosen by secret vote. The members of the Sejm are elected for a period of five years. Every citizen over the age of 21 has a vote. Taxes are fixed by the Sejm, which also legislates in general and performs the usual work of a Lower Chamber.

The Senate has 96 members, of whom 32 are nominated by the President himself; the remaining 64 are elected. The whole nation does not participate in this election. Only a select few may vote members to Senate. These include persons holding college diplomas, local government posts, and particularly privileged positions. Any person can be given the right to vote for the Senate if he is considered to be deserving. This means that the authorities exercise [34] considerable power, even against the will of the people. No person under the age of 30 may have a Senate vote, while candidates for the Senate must be at least 40 years of age. It is hardly surprising under such circumstances that the minorities have not so much say in government affairs as they would have if both Chambers were elected. This system is, no doubt, satisfactory to the Poles, but it reduces the rights of minorities still further.

The election of the President is not entirely democratic. The candidate is chosen by the assembly of electors. The Sejm selects fifty electors, and the Senate 25. The retiring President can, if he wishes, propose a further candidate. The new President is elected by a referendum. If, however, the retiring President does not make use of his privilege, the candidate proposed by the assembly of electors automatically takes office. The common people have thus only a very indirect say in the matter, for they have only participated in the election of the Sejm, which has only a share in the election of the President. It is clear that a mere 60% of the people would be unable to make their voices heard - if they were common people with no Senate vote. Small wonder that the minorities in Poland, which amount to "only" three-sevenths of the population, are seldom heard!

The President appoints the Premier, and also nominates the other members of the Cabinet, but this takes place on the recommendation of the Premier. [35] The President has full powers to declare war without any reference whatever to the people, the Sejm, the Senate, the Premier or the other members of the Cabinet. As an individual, he may declare war in Poland's name whenever he pleases. Such is the clause in the Polish Constitution. He is furthermore head of all the armed forces of the State, and has power to ratify and to conclude treaties with other States. He can, of course, consult the members of the Cabinet on such matters, and generally does. But he is under no definite obligation to do so. He is thus a Dictator, and if he does not always make full use of his powers, it is merely because he prefers not to.

The Constitution is not the original one of post-War days, but dates back only to April 23rd, 1935. That is to say, the system of government was revised as from that date. The present government methods are partly based on those of Poland of several centuries ago, but with the addition of the vote for the Sejm for all persons over the age of 21, and with certain other modernisations.


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Poland From the Inside