Divided Government in Comparative Perspective

By Robert Elgie | Go to book overview
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7 Divided Government in Poland

Ania Krok-Paszkowska

Poland has a semi-presidential regime in which 'a popularly-elected fixed-term president exists alongside a prime minister and cabinet who are responsible to parliament' (Elgie, 1999 : 13). The form of divided government is one in which a party (or parties) opposed to the president has (have) a majority in the key house (Sejm), leading to the appointment of a prime minister who is also opposed to the president. However, as Elgie points out in Chapter 1 , the concept of divided government can be used in different ways. In the US literature, which is by far the most prolific source of studies on divided government, the concept is understood in either a purely arithmetical sense, that is, reflecting the distribution of power between the executive and legislative branches of government, or in a behavioural sense, that is, a function of divisive political behaviour. The latter reflects a situation where relations are conflictual whatever the political (partisan) make-up of the different branches of government. Although this case-study will be based upon a purely arithmetical definition of divided government, it is important to understand the specific context in which divided government in Poland has functioned.

For most of the period under consideration, 1989-99, irrespective of whether the president and/or prime minister enjoyed majority support in the legislature, the relationship between parliament, government, and president has been marked by ongoing competence struggles. This was largely due to the nature of the power-sharing deal worked out between the communist and Solidarity élites in the context of the 1989 roundtable negotiations and the sequence of events which followed. The direct election of a president in late 1990 before fully competitive parliamentary elections had been held and before any decisions had been taken as to the future competencies of the presidency laid the ground for a potentially dangerous constitutional conflict. When a fully democratic parliament was elected in autumn 1991, presidential prerogatives based on agreements reached in the roundtable negotiations, that is, created under constraining circumstances, were even more open to question. As existing and newly emerging political actors gained control over one or another institution, they tried to consolidate their power bases. In part,

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