Constitution System in Russia

CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM IN RUSSIA 

The Russian Federation was the largest nation to emerge from the break up of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Following the constitutional crisis of 1993, Russia adopted a new constitution in a referendum of December 1993. Essentially the country is described as a federal presidential republic.

1 EXECUTIVE BRANCH IN RUSSIA

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President with the approval of the Duma and is first-in-line to the presidency in the case of the President’s death or resignation. Historically the role of Prime Minister has been very much subservient to that of the President. However, this situation changed in March 2008 when Vladimir Putin stepped down as President – as he was constitutionally required to do – and became Prime Minister while the First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stepped up to the Presidency. In May 2012, Putin returned to the Presidency and former President Medvedev became Prime Minister in an exchange of roles.

THE PRESIDENT

The constitution of 1993 provides strong powers for the President. The President has broad authority to issue decrees and directives that have the force of law without legislative review, although the constitution notes that they must not contravene that document or other laws. Indeed Russia’s strong presidency is sometimes compared with that of Charles de Gaulle in the French Fifth Republic (1958-69). The Law on Presidential Elections requires that the winner receive more than 50% of the votes cast. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates in term of votes must face each other in a run-off election. Under the original 1993 constitution, the President was elected for a four-year term but, in November 2008, the constitution was amended to make this a six year term. The President is eligible for a second term but constitutionally he is barred from a third consecutive term. The first President of the new Russia was Boris Yelsin who was elected in June 1991. He was followed by his hand-picked successor Vladimir Putin. After a term as Acting President, he was elected for his first term in May 2000 and for a second term in March 2004. In accordance with the constitution, he stepped down in March 2008 and was succeeded by his nominated successor Dmitry Medvedev (previously a First Deputy Prime Minister). In March 2012, Putin was re-elected as President on the first ballot in a widely criticised election in which the opposition candidates were weak, the media was compliant, and there were many electoral irregularities. He took office in May 2012 and will serve for six years. Constitutionally Putin could seek one further term and, if elected, would therefore be President until 2024 when he would be 71

2. LEGISLATIVE BRANCH IN RUSSIA

The lower house in the Russian Federal Assembly is the State Duma. It is the more powerful house, so all bills, even those proposed by the Federation Council, must first be considered by the Duma. However, the Duma’s power to force the resignation of the Government is severely limited. It may express a vote of no confidence in the Government by a majority vote of all members of the Duma, but the President is allowed to disregard this vote.

The Duma has 450 members who are known as deputies. Formerly seats in the Duma were elected half by proportional representation (with at least 5% of the vote to qualify for seats) and half by single member districts. However, President Putin passed a decree that from the November 2007 election all seats are to be elected by proportional representation with at least 7% of the vote to qualify for seats. This 7% threshold is one of the highest in Europe and, by introducing this, Putin eliminated independents and made it effectively impossible for small parties to be elected to the Duma. Also the registration process for candidates in elections is complicated, so that only very few of the parties that want to field candidates are allowed to do so. All these points have been highlighted by critics of the Russian system of politics.
 
THE FEDERATION COUNCIL

The upper house in the Russian Federal Assembly is the Federation Council. The Council has 168 members who are known as senators. Each of the 84 federal subjects of Russia sends two members to the Council. The federal subjects are the 21 republics, the 47 oblasts, the eight krais, the two federal cities, the five autonomous okrugs and one autonomous oblast (each category of which has different powers). One senator is elected by the provincial legislature and the other is nominated by the provincial governor and confirmed by the legislature. As a result of the territorial nature of the upper house, terms to the Council are not nationally fixed, but instead are determined according to the regional bodies the senators represent. The Council holds its sessions within the Main Building on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street in Moscow, the former home of the Soviet State Building Agency (Gosstroi).

Under the original 1993 constitution, elections were held every four years but, in November 2008, the constitution was amended to make the Duma’s term five years. The last Duma election was held in December 2011, so the next one is to be held in December 2016. Turnout in that election was only 60%. The Duma is headquartered in central Moscow, a few steps from Manege Square.

3. Judicial Branch In Russia

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation consists of 19 judges, one being the Chairman and another one being Deputy Chairman. Judges are appointed by the President with the consent of the Federation Council. The Constitutional Court is a court of limited subject matter jurisdiction. The 1993 constitution empowers the Constitutional Court to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments. The court also is authorised to rule on violations of constitutional rights, to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the President. Although in theory the judiciary is independent, most observers believe that major elements of the judiciary – together with the police and prosecution authorities – are under the political control of the Kremlin and more specifically Vladimir Putin.

4. Local Govt In Russia

Under the Russian constitution the central government retains significant authority, but regional and local governments have been given an array of powers. For example, they exercise authority over municipal property and policing, and they can impose regional taxes. Owing to a lack of assertiveness by the central government, Russia’s administrative divisions—oblasti(regions),

minority republics, okruga (autonomous districts), kraya(territories), federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and the one autonomous oblast—exerted considerable power in the initial years after the passage of the 1993 constitution. The constitution gives equal power to each of the country’s administrative divisions in the Federal Assembly. However, the power of the divisions was diluted in 2000 when seven federal districts (Central, Far East, Northwest, Siberia, Southern, Urals, and Volga), each with its own presidential envoy, were established by the central government. In 2010 the southeastern portion of the Southern district was reorganized as an eighth federal district, North Caucasus. The districts’ presidential envoys were given the power to implement federal law and to coordinate communication between the president and the regional governors. Legally, the envoys in federal districts had solely the power of communicating the executive guidance of the federal president. In practice, however, the guidance served more as a directive, as the president was able to use the envoys to enforce presidential authority over the regional governments. In comparison to the federal government, regional governments generally have inadequate tax revenue to support mandatory items in their budgets, which have barely been able to cover wages for teachers and police. The budgets of regional governments also are overburdened by pensions.
Several of the administrative divisions established constitutions that devolved power to local jurisdictions, and, though the 1993 constitution guaranteed local self-governance, the powers of local governments vary considerably. Some local authorities, particularly in urban centres, exercise significant power and are responsible for taxation and the licensing of businesses. Moscow and St. Petersburg have particularly strong local governments, with both possessing a tax base and government structure that dwarf the country’s other regions. Local councils in smaller communities are commonly rubber-stamp agencies, accountable to the city administrator, who is appointed by the regional governor. In the mid-1990s municipal government was restructured. City councils (dumas), city mayors, and city administrators replaced former city soviets.

Legislation has further affirmed the power of the federal government over the regions. For example, the regional governors and their deputies were prohibited from representing their region in the Federation Council on the grounds that their sitting in the Federation Council violated the principle of the separation of powers; however, under a compromise, both the legislative and executive branch of each region sent a member to the Federation Council. Legislation enacted in 2004 permitted the president to appoint the regional governors, who earlier were elected. In the first decade of the 21st century, the country began to undergo administrative change aimed at subordinating smaller okruga to neighbouring members of the federation. Following these reforms in regional government, the new federal districts began to replace the 11 traditional economic regions, particularly for statistical purposes. The Central district unites the city of Moscow with all administrative divisions within the Central and Central Black Earth economic regions. The Northwest district combines the city of St. Petersburg with all areas in the North and Northwest regions, including Kaliningrad oblast. The Southern district includes portions of the Volga and North Caucasus economic regions; the North Caucasus district encompasses the remaining units of the latter economic region. The Volga district merges units of the Volga, Volga-Vyatka, and Ural economic regions. The Urals district consists of the remaining administrative divisions of the Ural economic region along with several from the West Siberia economic region. The Siberia district unites the remainder of the West Siberia economic region and all of East Siberia. Finally, the Far East district is congruent with the Far East economic region.

5. POLITICAL PARTY SYSTEM IN RUSSIA

The main political party is called United Russia. It was founded in April 2001 as a result of a merger between several political parties. It describes itself as centrist, but it is essentially a creation of Vladimir Putin and supports him in the Duma and the Federation Council. In the last Duma elections of December 2011, even with the alleged voting iregularities, United Russia’s share of the vote fell by 15% to just over 49% and the number of its deputies fell by 77 to 238. The main opposition party is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation led by Gennady Zyuganov. In the last election, it won 19% of the vote and took 92 seats. The only other parties retaining seats in the Duma are the fake opposition party A Just Russia with 64 seats and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 56 seats. The Western-orientated reform party Yabloko – the next highest in ranking of votes won – secured a mere 3.43% in the last election .

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