Monday, April 12, 2010

Sejm Speaker Takes Over as Acting Polish President

The Polish Constitution and other laws provide mechanisms for dealing with extraordinary situations such as the death of the president or other senior officials. Sejm Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski has taken over the president's responsibilities following the death of President Lech Kaczynski and confirmed that the presidential election will take place no later than 20 June 2010.

Constitutional Provision
The Constitution specifically provides that the speaker of the Sejm shall announce an early presidential election no later than 14 days after the office of the president is vacated and shall set the election day on a non-working day within 60 days of the election's proclamation. Speaker of the Sejm Bronislaw Komorowski has confirmed in a televised address that he will do so, adding that he will make the decision after consultations with all parliamentary parties. This means that the speaker has to announce the date by 24 April and the election has to be held no later than 20 June.

While acting in this capacity, Speaker Komorowski can make almost all decisions the presidents is entitled to make. He will sign laws and ratify international agreements, as well as issue official acts. He will also be able to propose legislation and issue orders. Until the next president is elected, Bronislaw Komorowski will represent Poland abroad.

Procedures in Place for Replacing Other Top Officials
Aside from President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, a number of other top officials died in the crash: 15 Sejm deputies, three senators, top military commanders, the governor of the central bank -- the National Bank of Poland (NBP), the head of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), and the spokesman for civic rights. Two of the deputies and one of the senators additionally held the functions of deputy speakers.

In accordance with the Electoral Law, the late 15 deputies will be replaced by candidates from the same lists who won the second biggest number of votes on those lists in the 2007 parliamentary elections. To replace the three late senators, supplementary elections will be held in their electoral districts within three months of the day when their senatorial mandates expired. The functioning of the Sejm and the Senate is not under threat as the deceased deputy speakers can be replaced by other deputy speakers, although both houses of parliament must choose their replacements.

Responsibilities and Expectations
Responsibilities of the chief of the General Staff and commanders of the various branches of the Polish Armed Forces are automatically assumed by their deputies. However, they will likely be fulfilling these duties only until the presidential election because the head of state has the right to appoint the chief of staff and commanders of the various branches of the Armed Forces.

National security will be unaffected by the death of the presidential National Security Office (BBN) head. His duties have been taken over by the deputy BBN chief, who will continue in this post until the presidential election. However, Speaker Komorowski will be able to make any decisions in this area.

The death of the central bank head does not paralyze this institution as the duties are taken over by the NBP deputy governor. However, it remains unclear whether the deputy governor may convene sessions of the Monetary Policy Council (RPP). Although the regulations say that the deputy should assume all the powers of the governor, including chairmanship of the RPP, one of RPP members has said that on 12 April the council will choose its new chairman.

The responsibilities of the civic rights spokesman will be taken over by one of its two deputies, who will continue in this capacity until a new spokesman is appointed by the Sejm and the Senate. A contest will be announced for candidates willing to serve as IPN head.

Appointment Made
Sejm Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski has already appointed Jacek Michalowski head of the President's Chancellery, whom he described as a person not clearly linked to any political party. He also said that swift decisions are needed in the central bank because only its head can convene sessions of the RPP. He added that he would swiftly appoint a head of the BBN and persuade the defense minister to quickly stabilize the situation at least with regard to some commanders. He specified that he specifically meant the chief of the General Staff and the military commander that is in charge of foreign missions.

Komorowski has also said that retired General Stanislaw Koziej will head the BBN. He noted that Koziej served as deputy defense minister in a cabinet headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice (PiS) party and that he is a defense expert far from party and political involvement. He added that decisions are also to be expected soon regarding the appointment of a new civic rights spokesman.

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