Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Russia: Parlimentary Checks and Balances?

The contemporary government system of Russia provides a check on presidential power just as the United States system is designed to do.  One of the problems with parliamentary or representative governments is that it is a government format designed to be manipulated by capital or political power, whether by capitalist lobbyists in the United States or soft authoritarian political unity in Russia.  In the aftermath of the communist system in Russia, a checks and balance system was implemented in article 10 of the state constitution that established “the basis of the separation of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 39, 2010).  Similar to the United States Congress, the Russian parliament is bicameral with two chambers, “the lower chamber is the State Duma and the upper is the Federation Council” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 40, 2010).  Simply because President Putin has “achieved total dominance on the basis of a two-thirds majority of seats controlled by the loyal United Russia” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 40, 2010) political party does not imply that the Russian system is void of presidential constraints.  While the two-party political system in the United States allows private sector and foreign entities to manipulate legislature through lobbying, Putin has legally consolidated main political parties into one consolidated alliance within the parameters of the legislation system.  In both American and Russian systems, the president “must nonetheless obtain the consent of parliament if he seeks to pass legislation” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 41, 2010), and in both systems the bicameral systems “can also override a presidential veto by a concurrent two-thirds vote” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 42, 2010).  While pro-Western Yeltsin utilized “presidential decrees (ukazy) to enact important policy changes” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 42, 2010) on behalf of international capitalism, Putin’s consolidation of political parties operated within the established checks and balances of the “normal legislative process” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 42, 2010) of the Russian constitution.  Within the legal framework of the system, “Putin put through legislation raising the requirements for registration of parties, so that a party must have 50,000 members and branches in at least half the regions of the country to be legally registered” (Wegren & Herspring, p. 48, 2010), but his election campaign reform legislation could have been blocked if there had been enough parliamentary opposition.

In the aftermath of Putin’s political consolidation process through United Russia, the relationship of the president and the prime minister under the Russian system should be analyzed.  While the lower house, the Duma, is chosen directly by the populace, it is the president that appoints the prime minister “with the approval of the lower house of the parliament (State Duma)” (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 334).  Under the United Russia political consolidation, it has been easy enough for Putin and Medvedev to hold the top leadership position, almost swapping posts with each other while appointing the other as prime minister, since there are no constraints on the number of overall terms that an individual can serve as president.  The presidential post within the Russian system is limited to two consecutive 6-year terms, but as we have seen with Putin and Medvedev, the same political party can control the presidential and prime minster positions for unlimited timeframes.

While the political consolidation under United Russia appears to leave the presidential position basically unchecked, it is only a matter of time before different political interests develop domestically and splinter the political unity and the existing checks and balances of the Russian Constitution and the Russian political system become more apparent….or abolished.


Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph.  2013. Introduction to Comparative Politics, 6th edition.  Boston, MA: Wadsworth

Wegren & Herspring.  2010. After Putin's Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and LIttlefield Publishers, 2010.

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