The lower house of the bicameral National Assembly, the Sejm, is the more powerful of the two chambers. The Sejm has the constitutional responsibility of initiating and enacting laws that "set the basic direction of the state's activity" and of overseeing "other organs of power and state administration." The constitution specifies election of the 460 Sejm deputies to a term of four years. The 1991 election was conducted by a system that awarded seats in the Sejm in strict proportion to the number of votes each party or coalition garnered nationally. This system was blamed for the extreme fragmentation that plagued Polish politics in 1991-92. The new Sejm is required to convene within one month after national parliamentary elections.
Upon taking the oath of office, the Sejm deputies immediately elect a permanent marshal, who serves as Sejm speaker. The marshal and three vice marshals constitute the Presidium of the Sejm, the chief duties of which are to oversee accomplishment of the Sejm agenda, to coordinate the activities of the parliamentary commissions, and to represent the Sejm in external affairs. The marshal, vice marshals, and leaders of parliamentary caucuses (called "clubs") form an advisory organ to the Sejm Presidium known as the Council of Elders (Konwent Seniorów), which assists in scheduling.
The constitution empowers the president to declare a threemonth state of emergency in the event of parliamentary paralysis. During this period, the president may perform the duties of the prime minister, but the Sejm cannot be dismissed, and changes cannot be made to the constitution or electoral law.
Among the most important agencies of the Sejm in mid-1992 were twenty-one permanent committees, which enjoyed considerable autonomy in deliberating issues and in referring their findings to the entire Sejm for action. The committees set their own agendas in analyzing the performance of individual sectors of the economy or units of state administration. The Sejm could also create special committees to study specific issues. Committee appointments were highly partisan and reflected the numerical representation of the various parties and factions within the Sejm.
The National Assembly has exclusive responsibility to pass a central state budget and to finance the entire range of state activities, including foreign monetary payments, and to approve a domestic credit plan and balance sheet of incomes and expenditures. The budget bill and financial plans passed by the Sejm are sent to the Senate, which may propose changes. The Little Constitution specifies that the Sejm can overturn the Senate's changes with an absolute majority vote. Previously, overriding Senate changes had required a two-thirds majority, with a quorum of at least 50 percent of the Sejm deputies. The president can dismiss parliament for failing to pass a budget within three months.
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