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The Sejm building in .
The Sejm building in Warsaw.
This article is about the lower chamber of the Polish parliament. See Seimas for the parliament of Lithuania, Saeima for the parliament of Latvia, and Sejm River for the river of that name in Russia and Ukraine.

Sejm or Seym (pronounced: [sεjm]) is the name of the lower house of the Polish parliament.

Before the 20th century, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1567-1795), the term "Sejm" referred to the entire three-chamber Polish parliament, comprising the lower house (Chamber of Deputies; Polish: Izba Poselska), the upper house (Senate; Polish: Senat) and the King. It was commonly termed a three-estate parliament. Since the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939), the term "Sejm" has referred only to the lower house of the parliament; the upper house is called the "Senat".



Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Template:Politics of Poland Power of the nobility and early sejms grew during the times of Poland's fragmentation (1146-1295), when power of individual rulers vaned and various councils and wiece grew stronger. The history of the Sejm dates back to 1182 and the first Sejm at Łęczyca. From 1493 forward, the indirect elections were repeated every two years. With time and the development of the unique Polish Golden Liberty the Sejm's powers increased.

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A wiec in the time of King Kazimierz the Great (14th-century Poland).

The term "sejm" comes from an old Polish expression denoting a meeting of the populace. Since 14th century irregular sejm (described in various sources as latin contentio generalis, conventio magna, conventio solemna, parlamentum, parlamentum generale, dieta or Polish sejm walny) have been called by Polish kings. Since 1374 (przywilej koszycki), the king had to receive sejm permission to raise taxes. The General Sejm (Polish Sejm Generalny or Sejm Walny), first convoked by the king John I Olbracht in 1493 near Piotrków, evolved from earlier regional and provincial meetings (sejmiks, especially from sejmik generaly), which arose from the 1454 statute of Nieszawa, granted to the szlachta by King Casimir IV the Jagiellonian. Since 1493 Sejm Walny has been meeting irregulary, on average every year.

The first Sejm was composed of two chambers:

The number of dignitaries and deputies in the lower chamber, and its power, increased over time, especially as the lower nobility pressured the king for more privileges when asked to provide military assistance in the form of pospolite ruszenie. After 1567 Union of Lublin, the Kingdom of Poland was transformed into the federation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Sejm was increased with the inclusion of the deputies from Lithuanian Sejmiks.

Sejms severely limited the king's powers. They had a final decision in legislation, taxation, budget and treasury matters (including military funding), foreign affairs and nobilitation. In 1573 Sejm guaranteed the religious tolerance in the Commonwealth territory, making it the refuge from the reformation and counter-reformation contemporary European wars.

Until Union of Lublin Sejms were held near Piotrkow, since Unia, in the Warsaw Royal Castle. Since 1673 each third Sejm was to take place in Grodno in Lithuania. It began with a ceremonial mass, then the Kanclerz (Chancellor) decreed the king's intentions, then senators had a voice. Afterwards, the king together with the Senate debated on the most important matters (usually foreign affairs), deputies debated separately under the leadership of the marshal of the sejm. In the matters deemed very important both senat and the sejm debated together in the chamber of the senate. The legislation was drafted in the lower chamber (Sejm). Members of the Sejm presented its proposed legislation to the gathered deputies of the Sejm, where they were discussed at length. The legislation was commonly negotiated by a deputation from the lower house (Sejm) with the upper chamber (Senate) and the reigning monarch (considered to be a third, separate Sejm chamber on his own).

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Jan Matejko, "The First Sejm, 1182" (held at Łęczyca). Oil on canvas, 1888, National Museum, Warsaw.

Eventually, laws were approved or discarded at the joint final sitting of both chambers in the presence of the king. For a law to pass it needed a unanimous support from all Sejm deputies and the King. The Senate could not pass nor propose legislation and was an advisory body to the King. The King heard the Senate counsel and concluded the matter one way or another, although his power was restricted if all the Sejm speakers opposed the royal proposal. If there were conflicting views in the Senate, the king had to favour the existing law.

The king could not pass the laws himself without the approval of the Sejm, this being forbidden by szlachta priviliges like nihil novi from 1505. According to the "Nihil Novi" constitution a law passed by the Sejm had to be agreed by the three estates sitting there - the king, the Senate and and deputies from the Sejm. King Henry's Articles, signed by each king since 1573, required the king to call a general sejm (lasting six weeks) every two years, and provisions for the extraordinary sejm (Polish: sejm ekstraordynaryjny, nadzwyczajny) were also set down in this act. Extraordinary sejms could be called in times of national emergency and last shorter, for example, a sejm deciding whether to call pospolite ruszenie should not last longer than two weeks.

The Marshal (or Speaker) of the Sejm concluded the debates, but he was required to ask the members whether his understanding of the chamber's views was unanimously accepted by it. If anyone declared his opposition (Latin contradictio), the debate would be reopened and would continue until the opponents of the measure abandoned their opposition at the next attempt to reach a conclusion.

Until the end of 16th century unanimity, while preferred, was not required and majority voting was most common. Later, with the raise of magnates power, unanimity principe was reinforced with the szlachta right of liberum veto (from Latin, meaning: I don't allow). Eventually the pro-majority voting party almost disappeared in the 17th century, and majority voting was preserved only at the confederated sejms (sejm rokoszowy, konny, konfederacyjny). To increase the chance of unanimity agreement, voting was delayed until an agreement has been reached by often lengthy discussions. It had a certain negative character: it was enough if no formal exception was taken by anyone – even if some opposition did exist, it would not necessarily be upheld, in the face of sometimes menacing persuasion from the majority group. If, however, the deputies could not attain even such passive unanimity, or if the chamber's negotiations with the king proved futile then after six weeks (the upper time limit of its sittings) had elapsed, the deliberations as a whole were declared null and void. Sometimes, but rarely, a deputies from a local sejmik could object to the agreement and be granted an exception from this law, allowing it to pass. From the mid-17th century onwards, any objection to a Sejm resolution from either a deputy or a senator automatically caused other, previously approved resolutions to be rejected. This was because all resolutions passed by a given Sejm formed a whole and were published as constitutions of the Sejm e.g. Anno Domini 1667.

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In 1791, the "Great" or Four-Year Sejm of 17881792 adopts the May 3rd Constitution at Warsaw's Royal Castle (rebuilt in the 1970s after its deliberate destruction by the Germans in World War II).

In the 16th century no single person or small group dared to hold up proceedings, but from second half of 17th century the liberum veto was used to paralyze the Sejm and brought the Commonwealth to the brink of collapse. The liberum veto was finally abolished by the Constitution of 3rd May in 1795.

The early statues passed by the Sejm were called "constitution" (Polish konstytucja or konstytucja sejmowa) and should not be confused with modern meaning of this word. The konstytucja passed by the Sejm had denoted all the legislation, of whatever character, that had been passed at a Sejm. Only with the May 3rd Constitution in 1795 did "konstytucja" assume its modern sense of a fundamental document of governance.

The final version of approved acts, which from the late 15th century until the early 16th century were divided into perpetual and temporary constitutions ('constitutiones perpetuae' and 'constitutiones temporales'), was drawn up at the sealing sessions, held after the close of the Sejm debate. These sessions were attended by the chancellor, the Speaker of the Sejm and deputations from the Sejm and the Senate. From the end of the 16th century, the constitutions they signed were printed, stamped with the royal seal and bearing the signatures of the Sejm speaker and the chancellor sent to the chancelleries of the municipal councils of all voivodships of the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Until 1543 the resolutions were written in Latin, and later on in Polish. Those resolutions were presented soon after the Sejm on local sejmiki, known as sejmiki relacyjne. In accordance with the act of 1613, immediately after the close of Sejm debates, the constitutions it had passed were published by entering them in the registers of wherever the Sejm was meeting. Copies of them still had to be sent to municipal councils (urzędy grodzkie) throughout the country, where they were entered or - more commonly - incorporated in their printed form in the municipal registers (księgi grodzkie).

It is estimated that since 1493 and 1793 sejms were held 240 times, and total debate time was 44 years.

Sejm of the Second Polish Republic

Sejm of the People's Republic of Poland

Sejm of modern Poland

Since the fall of communism and the transformation of the People's Republic of Poland into modern Poland, the Polish Sejm comprises 460 members elected in proportional elections every four years.

See also

External links

de:Sejm es:Sejm fr:Sejm pl:Sejm (polski) nl:Sejm


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