The Assembly Room of the Sejm belongs to most recognisable places in Poland. How often do deputies gather for sessions? How often do they vote, and what is the difference between the ordinary and qualified majority? The anwers to these questions are given below.
The Sejm session is a gathering of all (460) deputies in order to debate on matters dealt with by the Sejm, in particular to pass bills into laws.
Sejm sessions take place in the periods set out by the Sejm Presidium or in periods specified by resolution of the Sejm itself. In practice, sessions take place in what is called sitting weeks, between which no sessions are convened (deputies may devote that time to carry out their parliamentary duties in their constituencies). However, a session may be convened at any time, if necessary.
Sejm sessions are opened and closed by the Sejm Marshal, who strikes the Marshal's staff three times against the floor.
The duration of a session is closely linked to the order of the day, i.e. a list of items to be dealt with by the Sejm at a particular session. A session lasts as long as necessary to implement the order of the day, and thus all planned items, e.g. bills, are discussed.
Since sessions last only several days and the plan of work may be very extensive, the Sejm often happens to deliberate late into the night.
The order of the day is set out by the Marshal of the Sejm in consultation with the Council of Elders. If the opinion is not unanimous, on contentious items the Sejm decides by voting.
Participation in voting is a deputies’ duty. For the vote to be valid, a quorum is necessary, which exists when at least half of the statutory number of deputies are present when bills are adopted – at least 230 deputies. However, the quorum does not include any deputies, who, while present in the Assembly Room, have not taken any decision, i.e. have not voted for, against, or abstained. The adoption of a bill is conditional on it being supported by simple majority of deputies. Based on the same procedure, the Sejm passes resolutions and other decisions unless the Constitution or the Standing Orders of the Sejm provide otherwise.
Voting is open and effected by show of hands with a simultaneous use by the deputy of an electronic voting device. The deputy takes a vote after having inserted in the reader his/her personal magnetic data card. In the case of equipment failure, the Marshal of the Sejm may order a vote by show of hands and vote counting by secretaries. The Marshal, as well as a group of at least 30 deputies, may table a motion for voting by roll call. In such voting, the roll is called in alphabetical order by a secretary of the Sejm and the deputies cast ballots into a ballot box.
The result of the vote is announced by the Marshal of the Sejm after having the votes counted. However, if the deputies are in doubt about the result of the vote, the Sejm may, on the motion of 30 deputies, repeat the vote, but this may only take place at the same sitting of the Sejm.
The following types of majority can be distinguished, which apply depending on the weight of the decisions taken by the Sejm:
- simple majority – when there are more votes for than against. Theoretically, it may happen that a bill is passed with one vote for, with no votes against and 229 abstentions. On the other hand, an equal number of votes for and against means that a bill (resolution) has not been adopted;
- absolute majority – when there are more votes for than the sum of votes against and abstentions. Abstentions make it more difficult to reach a majority, as they are added to votes against. It is also worth noting that it is not true that absolute majority is 50% in favour plus one voter, as the formula works only with an even number of voting persons. The requirement of absolute majority applies e.g. in the case the Sejm rejects the Senate’s amendments to bills or to granting a vote of confidence to the Council of Ministers;
- qualified majority – where the law sets a specific proportion required for a decision to be taken – 2/3 or 3/5 of votes. The Constitution provides for such majority for decisions of special significance and special weight, owing to the fact that such majority is more difficult to attain. Qualified majority of 2/3 votes cast by the statutory number of deputies, i.e. at least 307 voting in favour is necessary for a decision to be taken to shorten the term of office of the Sejm, while a majority of 3/5 of votes obtained with at least half of the statutory number of deputies present is necessary for a bill vetoed by the President to be re-adopted. The Constitution makes calculation of a qualified majority dependent on the number of deputies voting – which is a rule – or on the statutory number of deputies.