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INTRODUCTION

The Russian political system is one of the more recent to embrace


democracy but remains deeply flawed in terms of its democratic credentials,
overwhemingly tainted by corruption, and massively influenced by the power
and personality of one man, Vladimir Putin.
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.
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 President's power in practice is underlined by his power to make so
many appointments of key officials. It is estimated that the size of the
Presidential apparatus in Moscow and the localities is more than 75,000
people, most of them employees of state-owned enterprises directly under
Presidential control.
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.
THE EXECUTIVE
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 STATE DUMA
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.

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 (when
turnout was only 60%). So the next Duma election should have been on 4
December 2016 but has been brought forward to 18 September 2016.
The Duma is headquartered in central Moscow, a few steps from Manege
Square.
THE FEDERATION COUNCIL
The upper house in the Russian Federal Assembly is the Federation Council.
The Council has 170 members who are known as senators. Each of the 85
federal subjects of Russia sends two members to the Council.
The federal subjects are the 47 oblasts (provinces), the eight krais (various
large territories with the same legal status as oblasts)), the two federal cities
(Moscow and St Petersburg), the 21 republics (areas of non-Russian
ethnicity), the four autonomous okrugs (various regions) and one
autonomous oblast (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast), each category of which
has different powers. In 2014, Sevastopol and the Republic of Crimea
became the 84th and 85th federal subjects of Russia, although the two most
recently added subjects are internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.
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).
POLITICAL PARTIES
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.
THE JUDICIARY
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.
CONCLUSION
While Russian democracy may not be a total oxymoron, it is most certainly a
work in progress with Vladimir Putin remaining a massive influence on the
acquisition and exercise of power. Observers describe the current state of
the Russian political system as "managed democracy" or "sovereign
democracy" or simply as "Putinism".
The dismissal of Russia's powerful prosecutor-general Yuri Skuratov in 1999,
the indictment of Russia's richest oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 and
again in 2010, the unexplained murder of investigative journalist Anna
Plitkovskaya in 2006, the death in prison of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in
2009, the imprisonment of the three Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina,
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova & Yekaterina Samutsevich in 2012, the expulsion
from the Duma of opposition deputy Gennady Gudkov in 2012, the

conviction of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2013, and the assassination


of leader of the opposition Boris Nemtsov in 2015, are but the most dramatic
examples of the iron grip on political power exercised by Putin and his allies.
The dominant political clan in Russia is often referred to as the siloviki,
veterans of the security and military establishment led by Putin himself.
Some believe that there is a more liberal clan focussed around Medvedev.
Perhaps to the surprise of external observers, Putin's leadership is still
popular among the public outside the major cities, partly because it is seen
as restoring Russia's standing after the humiliating collapse of the Soviet
Union, partly because it follows in a long historic tradition of strong central
leadership stretching from the Tsars and through Stalin.
More widely, the political battle lines in Russia are not for or against
democracy or corruption; all parties are notionally for democracy but know
that it does not exist, while all parties are theorectically against corruption
but do nothing to tackle it. The real battle line is between centralisation and
regionalism, that is whether all meaningful power should reside in the
Kremlin or whether power should be shared with the regions and major
cities.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a Kremlin opponent and former Duma deputy who lost his
seat in 2007 after he was banned from the elections, said of the 2008
extension of the terms for both the President and the Duma: "This is very
negative. It's a clear signal that the regime will be authoritarian and
autocratic, and control everything. It's all about keeping power. The tsar was
constrained by the aristocracy. The party bureaucracy controlled the general
secretary. Today the president controls parliament, the senate, regions, the
bureaucracy and the security services, as well as oil and gas."
In 2011, the last president of the former Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
said of the current Russian political system: "We have everything - a
parliament, courts, a president, a prime minister, and so on. But it's more of
an imitation."
Meanwhile there is an interplay between political and economic forces that is
seriously destabilising Russia. The nation's recent occupation of the Crimea
and invasion of eastern Ukraine has resulted in sanctions from the Western
nations and there has been a collapse in the price of oil which provides half
of the country's exports and funds 40% of the federal budgets.