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Poland: National Assembly Accepts Draft Of Constitution

Prague, 24 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Poland's National Assembly of both parliamentary chambers overwhelmingly approved two days ago a draft of the long-awaited new constitution. The vote was 461-to-31, with five abstentions.

Before becoming law, the constitution will have to be signed by the President, who has a right to suggest modifications to be then debated by the Assembly, and be put to a national referendum.

Poland, the first Central European country to end Communist domination in 1989, is the last to adopt a charter institutionalizing the political and economic changes implemented since that time. Until now, the country used as its constitution a Communist-era document enacted at the height of the Stalinist rule in 1952, although it has been repeatedly amended during recent years.

Early efforts to prepare a new constitution repeatedly failed, owing to recurrent political crises. The current draft is a product of more than three years of difficult work, featuring protracted debates in Parliament and animated public discussions in the media.

The draft is a compromise between separate parliamentary groups. But it also includes views of parties and organizations not represented in the parliament, most notably the Roman Catholic Church.

The draft's preamble invokes God as the "source of truth, justice, goodness and beauty," but it also says that non-believers could draw these universal values from other sources. The demand, made by the Church and right-wing politicians, that the charter should recognize God-given or "natural" law, as higher than any man-made laws, was rejected.

The draft protects human life, but not from conception to natural death as demanded by the Church, but rather, leaves this issue open to interpretation. At the same time, accepting the Church's views, the draft outlaws homosexual marriages and provides guarantees for religious instruction in schools. The Church itself is given an autonomy with respect to state institutions.

The draft says that democracy returned to Poland in 1989, after a long period when "fundamental freedoms and human rights were violated" by the former Communist regime. And, the draft enshrines a market economy as the basis of the country's political and economic systems, but emphasizes the need to respect social needs through cooperation and dialogue among separate groups.

It clearly defines relations between Parliament, the President and the Government, eliminating uncertainties, which have caused recurrent political conflicts within the institutional establishment. It also provides for independent judicial review of laws.

The draft was approved with the votes of the ruling coalition of post-Communist and left-wing Peasants, but also the opposition democratic left and centrist groups. It was opposed by some of the right-wing opposition parlamentarians.

Commenting on the draft, centrist former prime minister and one of the principal authors of the preamble, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, has said the proposed charter is "perhaps not ideal, but not bad." He also said that the intention of the draft was "to unite rather than divide" Poles.

Poland's Catholic Primate Jozef Cardinal Glemp said yesterday that "many people accept this compromise constitution, regarding it as historically important."

The draft was strongly criticized by several right-wing politicians. Piotr Zak, spokesman for Solidarity-led coalition of rightist groups, said that the proposed charter was "imposed on the nation by left-wing parties." Solidarity has drafted its own version of the basic law, rooted in religious principles and replete with anti-Communist arguments. It demanded that its version be put to the referendum as well, but failed to win Parliamentary and Presidential acceptance.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that he would present his suggestions for changes within days. He also said that they will be "minor," and could be handled quickly by the Assembly.

This would allow the president to call a national referendum in the second half of May. The currently preferred date is May 25, a week before the scheduled visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland.