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Parliamentary elections. “Amazing omission.” PiS does not change the number of deputies despite the NEC’s recommendations

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Although the deputies have already considered three amendments to the Electoral Code, they have not introduced the changes to the number of deputies and senators in constituencies as postulated by the NEC. This threatens the equality of parliamentary elections. The number of deputies should be changed in 21 out of 41 constituencies. We explain what may be behind this omission.

On October 21, 2022 – in accordance with the Electoral Code – the National Electoral Commission sent to the Marshal of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek a proposal to change the boundaries of constituencies and the number of deputies elected in them. She argued that due to the change in the number of inhabitants of the country, the number of deputies elected in individual constituencies should be changed. These issues are described in Annexes 1 and 2 to the Election Code. According to the PKW, “the current division into constituencies specified in the annexes to the act violates the provisions of the Electoral Code”. Despite this, the draft amendment to the Electoral Code sent to the Sejm on December 22, 2022 by PiS did not include this recommendation. The changes were passed by the Sejm on January 26, four days later the act was sent to the Senate, which has 30 days to consider it.

The change in the number of seats among the bills introduced to the Sejm “does not appear”

According to the PKW, as many as 21 out of 41 constituencies to the Sejm need to change the number of deputies elected there – in nine constituencies it should be increased by one, in one constituency it should be increased by two, and in 11 constituencies the number of deputies should be reduced by one. The PKW also recommends adjusting the number of senators’ mandates to the number of inhabitants in the voivodeships – the changes should apply to three.

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Since the amendment to the Electoral Code without this correction has already been passed by the Sejm, are the next ones planned, taking it into account? In response to the Konkret24 question, the Sejm Information Center informed that the PKW’s application was received by the Chancellery of the Sejm on October 24, 2022. After the members of the Presidium of the Sejm got acquainted with the document, it was submitted on 3 November to the Extraordinary Committee for changes in codifications. The CIS response reads: “Currently, among the bills submitted to the Sejm, the draft concerning the amendments to Annex No. 1 to the Electoral Code is not included, therefore it is not possible to provide an answer when this matter will be dealt with by the Sejm.”

“Politicians will just get used to their safe territory”

Asked by Konkret24, an expert in electoral law, Dr. hab. Adam Gendźwiłł, professor at the University of Warsaw at the Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, writes in the analysis sent to us that he is unable to explain this omission by the Sejm. “It is all the more astonishing that three different amendments to the Electoral Code have recently been processed in the Sejm, including one – very complicated. It was a great opportunity to ensure equality of elections in this aspect” – he notes. But he reminds: “This is not just a fault of the current term, it’s just a bad tradition of ‘freezing’ appendices to the code.”

Previously, the PKW had already twice – in 2014 and 2018 – applied for changes, and the deputies of the two previous terms of office also ignored these requests. “This only shows that manual control of the number of seats divided in constituencies is simply non-functional. The code should include a mechanism for automatic distribution of seats according to a certain simple formula – then politicians will not have to update anything” – believes Prof. Gendzwill. When asked about the reasons for not adopting the recommended changes to the annexes to the Election Code, the expert replies: “Politicians will simply get used to the status quo, to their safe areas, which they serve as representatives, where they run an election campaign, know local activists, have their offices.” According to prof. Gedźwiłł, reducing the number of seats in the constituency can be interpreted by any politician – especially from the “back benches” – as a threat. “It’s a bit like a traditional wedding with chairs: that at some point someone will run out of free space to sit” – he states.

However, not changing the number of seats creates “a highly reprehensible situation, causing a violation of the constitutional principle of equality of elections” – we read in the opinion of the Batory Foundation of January 2023 on the draft amendments to the Electoral Code. Article 96 sec. 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland states:

Elections to the Sejm are universal, equal, direct and proportional, and are held by secret ballot.

Therefore, the Stefan Batory Foundation points out that “we are dealing with a serious legislative omission, undermining citizens’ trust in the state and its law (Article 2 of the Constitution), as well as in the electoral process.”

In which constituencies deputies should be reduced, in which should be added

In order to implement the principle of electoral equality – which in practice means that the same number of voters elect one deputy in a constituency – the concept of a uniform standard of representation was introduced into the electoral regulations. According to Art. 202 pairs 1 of the Electoral Code, it is calculated by dividing the number of inhabitants of the country by the total number of deputies elected in constituencies. In its application, the NEC states that the number of inhabitants of the country on September 30, 2022 was 36,075,160. The representative norm in elections to the Sejm was 78,424 inhabitants per one mandate.

On this basis, the NEC further calculates the number of deputies elected in individual constituencies. And so – taking into account the latest uniform standard of representation – in the constituencies: Legnica, Wałbrzych, Toruń, Lublin, Chełm, Łódź, Katowice II, Katowice III, Kielce, Elbląg, Koszalin, the number of elected deputies should be reduced by one; in the constituencies: Wrocław, Kraków II, Warszawa I, Rzeszów, Gdańsk, Słupsk, Konin, Piła, Poznań, increase the number of deputies by one; while in constituency no. 20 (the so-called Warsaw obwarzanek), the number of deputies should be increased by two.

Number of parliamentary mandates in constituencies where the NEC proposes changes PKW

In 10 out of 11 districts, where there should be one deputy less, Law and Justice won in the last elections to the Sejm (in 2019); in one (Łódź) – Civic Coalition.

In nine constituencies where one seat should be added, PiS won in six and Civic Coalition in three (Warsaw I, Gdańsk, Poznań). In the district near Warsaw – where you have to add two seats – PiS won in the 2019 elections.

Benefit for whom, loss for whom?

Looking at the above maps, we ask ourselves who could benefit and who could lose if the number of deputies remained unchanged. However, a direct answer is not possible at present.

Professor Genździł admits that this issue “is not completely neutral for the political chances of individual parties”. It indicates district no. 19 – i.e. Warsaw – in which, according to the PKW, one mandate should be added. According to the professor, this constituency “is underrepresented not only by the lack of demographic correction, but also by adding all foreign votes”. “And it is in the case of Warsaw that it is known that for many years this is an area where support for PiS is below average,” he believes.

As he writes in his opinion for Konkret24, “in the case of other districts, the matter is a little less obvious, because it is difficult today, based on nationwide polls, to predict which party would lose the ‘taken’ seat and which would gain the ‘added’ seat elsewhere”. The professor points out: “We don’t even know exactly what set of parties or coalitions will fight for parliamentary seats. The reductions in the number of seats proposed by the PKW apply primarily to smaller constituencies, and therefore the so-called natural electoral threshold would increase even more there – that is, it would be more difficult for parties with lower support in a given constituency to win a seat.

Senate constituencies also need to change

The PKW also analyzed the division into constituencies for the Senate. We have 100 single-seat constituencies within voivodeships. The division of seats into individual voivodships is also made on the basis of the representation standard, which is 360,752. In the case of the Senate, we do not present the division of seats into individual voivodships on the map, as the Election Code provides for a range in the allocation of seats to voivodeships. As stipulated in art. 261 pairs 2 of the Electoral Code, “a number of senators shall be elected in a voivodship not less than the integer number (without taking into account the fraction) being the quotient of the number of inhabitants of the voivodeship and the uniform standard of representation, and not greater than the integer number mentioned above plus one”. The table below shows what it looks like now. In the case of three voivodships – Mazowieckie, Małopolskie and Śląskie – the number of seats no longer corresponds to these ranges. In total, 13 senators are elected in the Mazowieckie Voivodeship, and the number of inhabitants and the standard of representation show that there should be 14 or 15 of them. Similarly, in the Małopolskie Voivodeship, eight senators are elected there, whereas there should be nine or ten. In Silesia, 13 senators are elected, while the National Electoral Commission calculates that there should be 11 or 12 of them.

PKW: number of inhabitants of voivodships and conversion quotients. Changes in the number of seats are recommended in three voivodeships pkw.gov.pl

According to the PKW, we are dealing with a violation of the Electoral Code, because in the Małopolskie and Mazowieckie voivodeships the number of elected senators is too low, and in the Śląskie voivodeship too high. At the same time, PMC draws attention to the situation in the Podkarpackie and Lubelskie voivodeships. Podkarpackie has a larger population (2,069,931) and five seats; Lubelskie Voivodeship has a smaller population (2,024,571) and has six seats. Although this situation does not violate Art. 261 pairs 2 of the Electoral Code, but according to the PKW, it raises doubts.

Why politicians are afraid of changes in the number of Senate seats

As explained by prof. Gendźwiłł, the constitution does not require elections to the Senate to be equal as elections to the Sejm. It is the Electoral Code that requires maintaining appropriate proportions between voivodeships and it is possible to determine the range within which the number of senators from each voivodship must fit, based on the rules of the Code. “In order to add a mandate somewhere, you have to take it from somewhere. Probably from the Śląskie and Łódzkie provinces” – the expert notes, which would also mean changing the borders of neighboring constituencies in a given province. Politicians are also afraid of this, because in JOWs (single-mandate electoral districts – ed.), the victory is sometimes decided by a small margin of votes” – explains Prof. Gendźwił. “The majority of the Senate – as we know – is now very fragile, and the opposition’s negotiations on so-called of the Senate pact are also probably very complicated. Therefore, the opposition probably also does not want changes in the Senate constituencies, because this may turn many agreements upside down” – the expert believes. And he concludes: “The closer to the elections, the less chance I see for changes in this area.”

Changes in the number of deputies and senators elected in constituencies and changes in constituency boundaries shall be possible not later than three months before the date on which the deadline for ordering elections to the Sejm expires. The deadline therefore expires on May 14 this year.

Main photo source: tvn24

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