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Legal Eye: Vote for ME!

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Unless you’ve been abroad or otherwise blissfully removed from current events in Poland, you’ve probably had your fill of campaign slogans, promises and accusations. Yes, once again it is that time of year when politicians are stumping for your vote. Aside from the good feeling of having fulfilled your civic duty, what does your vote get you? Although Poland’s manner of applying votes can be somewhat convoluted, your vote is ultimately for your preferred candidate.

Universal and direct

The connection between your vote and the candidate for office is most evident in elections for senators and the president. If you are 18 and a Polish citizen, you may place your vote directly for a candidate. Whoever receives the majority of votes, wins. There are 100 seats up for grabs in the Senate, of which four are allocated to various districts in Warsaw.


The fun starts with the counting of votes for the Polish and EU parliamentary elections. In addition to universal and direct, the principle of proportionality applies. Election commissions first look at party affiliation to divide up the number of seats, and only then take into account the votes for individual candidates.

For this reason, voters choose a party list of candidates in their Sejm (Polish parliament) election district. The various party election committees prepare their own slate of candidates. Voters may not pick and choose candidates from various party lists. You may, however, indicate a preference for certain candidates by placing your “x” next to the preferred party candidates. The positioning of a candidate on the list is not merely a matter of pride of place. If you indicated more than one preferred candidate, it is assumed that your first choice is the person highest on the list.

Each election district chooses at least seven Sejm representatives. Warsaw is only one of 41 election districts, but it has 20 seats out of the total 460 seats in the Sejm.

The 41 various district election commissions take the leading role in vote counting. Each commission first disregards votes for any party list that does not surpass a five-percent threshold of votes nationally. For coalitions, the threshold rises to eight percent. Thus, even if a party receives a lot of votes in an election district but fails to do well enough nationally, its candidates will not receive a seat. The only exception to this rule is for registered ethnic minority groups (such as the German minority). They can apply to have no threshold.

With the remaining party lists, a district election commission then divides the number of seats in the district in accordance with the proportion of votes received for those party lists in the district. After it is known how many seats are allocated to each party, the party candidates with the most votes get to fill the allocated number of seats for the party.

Term of office

Although it seems that various elections are being held constantly, the term of office for elected government officials is not short. Representatives for both the Polish Sejm and Senate are elected for four years. As to local elected officials, the Elections Code does not specify a term of office. This doesn’t explain why elections seem to be an annual event in Poland, but I am probably suffering a bad case of election fatigue.

Source: Judith Gliniecki, Warsaw Business Journal, 3rd October 2011