Main principles of the political strcutre and Elections in Russia

Russia elects on the federal level ahead of state- thepresident- and alegislature- one of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The president is elected for at most two six-year terms by the people, and the president may only serve two consecutive terms. A candidate for president must be a citizen of Russia, at least thirty-five years of age, and a resident of the country for at least ten years. The Law on Presidential Elections requires that the winner receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote (a highly probable result because of multiple candidacies), the top two vote-getters must face each other in a runoff election. Once the results of the first round are known, the runoff election must be held within fifteen days. A traditional provision allows voters to check off "none of the above," meaning that a candidate in a two-person runoff might win without attaining a majority.

According to theConstitution of Russia, thePresident of Russiaishead of state, and of amulti-party systemwithexecutive powerexercised by the government, headed by thePrime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the parliament's approval.Legislative poweris vested in the two chambers of theFederal Assembly of the Russian Federation, while the President and the government issue numerous legally binding laws.

TheFederal Assemblyhas twochambers. TheState Dumahas 450 members, elected for five-year terms, all of them elected byproportional representation. TheFederation Councilhas 178 members: 2 delegates for each region, but they are not elected. To participate in the elections, parties not currently represented inState Dumamust prove their trustworthiness by either gathering a minimum of 200,000 signatures from potential voters, or paying a bail of approximately $2.5 million.

Russia's president determines the basic direction of Russia's domestic and foreign policy and represents the Russian state within the country and in foreign affairs. The president appoints and recalls Russia's ambassadors upon consultation with the legislature, accepts the credentials and letters of recall of foreign representatives, conducts international talks, and signs international treaties. Several prescribed powers put the president in a superior positionvis-à-visthe legislature. 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. Under certain conditions, the president may dissolve the State Duma, the lower house of parliament (as a whole, now called the Federal Assembly). The president has the prerogatives of scheduling referendums (a power previously reserved to the parliament), submitting draft laws to the State Duma, and promulgating federal laws. Under the 1993 constitution, if the president commits "grave crimes" or treason, the State Duma may file impeachment charges with the parliament's upper house, the Federation Council. If the president is removed from office or becomes unable to exercise power because of serious illness, the prime minister is to temporarily assume the president's duties; a presidential election then must be held within three months. The constitution does not provide for a vice president, and there is no specific procedure for determining whether the president is able to carry out his duties. The president chairs meetings of the Government, which he also may dismiss in its entirety. Upon the advice of the prime minister, the president can appoint or remove Government members, including the deputy prime ministers. The president submits candidates to the State Duma for the post of chairman of theCentral Bank of the Russian Federation(RCB) and may propose that the State Duma dismiss the chairman. In addition, the president submits candidates to the Federation Council for appointment as justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Superior Court of Arbitration, as well as candidates for the office of procurator general, Russia's chief law enforcement officer. The president also appoints justices of federal district courts.

The constitution prescribes that the Government of Russia, which corresponds to the Western cabinet structure; consist of a prime minister (chairman of the Government), deputy prime ministers, and federal ministers and their ministries and departments. Within one week of appointment by the president and approval by the State Duma, the prime minister must submit to the president nominations for all subordinate Government positions, including deputy prime ministers and federal ministers. The prime minister carries out administration in line with the constitution and laws and presidential decrees. The ministries of the Government, which numbered 24 in mid-1996, execute credit and monetary policies and defense, foreign policy, and state security functions; ensure the rule of law and respect for human and civil rights; protect property; and take measures against crime. If the Government issues implementing decrees and directives that are at odds with legislation or presidential decrees, the president may rescind them. The Government formulates the state budget, submits it to the State Duma, and issues a report on its implementation.

In the Soviet period, some of Russia's approximately 100 nationalities were granted their own ethnic enclaves, to which varying formal federal rights were attached. Other smaller or more dispersed nationalities did not receive such recognition. In most of these enclaves, ethnic Russians constituted a majority of the population, although the titular nationalities usually enjoyed disproportionate representation in local government bodies. Relations between the central government and the subordinate jurisdictions, and among those jurisdictions, became a political issue in the 1990s. The Russian Federation has made few changes in the Soviet pattern of regional jurisdictions. The 1993 constitution establishes a federal government and enumerates eighty-nine subnational jurisdictions, including twenty-one ethnic enclaves with the status of republics. There are ten autonomous regions, or okruga (sing., okrug ), and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast', also known as Birobidzhan). Besides the ethnically identified jurisdictions, there are six territories (kraya ; sing., kray ) and forty-nine oblasts (provinces). The cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are independent of surrounding jurisdictions; termed "cities of federal significance," they have the same status as the oblasts. The ten autonomous regions and Birobidzhan are part of larger jurisdictions, either an oblast or a territory. As the power and influence of the central government have become diluted, governors and mayors have become the only relevant government authorities in many jurisdictions. Although Russia's regions enjoy a degree of autonomous self-government, the election of regional governors was substituted by direct appointment by the president in 2005.

The Public Chamber is a state institution with 126 members created in 2005 inRussiato analyze draft legislation and monitor the activities of the parliament, government and othergovernment bodies of Russiaandits Federal Subjects. It has a role similar to an oversight committee and has consultative powers. A convocation of the chamber is in power for a two-year term. The creation of the chamber was suggested byVladimir Putin, President of Russia, on September 13, 2004, following theBeslan school hostage crisis. According to the law, on September 30, 2005, the President selected 42 members of the chamber who were supposed to have distinguished merit for the state and society.

Post-reading activities:

1. Explain the underlined terms and expressions in the texts above.

2. Draw a comparison of the political systems and the systems of elections in the three countries according to the following criteria:

a) a type of political system

b) frequency of elections

c) branches of power

d) head of the government: general requirements, procedures of elections, and the extent of power

e) unique features of the political systems rooted in the country’s culture.

3. Provide critical examination of the following statements: a) In Britain, the political system gives disproportionate power to smaller parties. b) Even though the American political system is considered to be stable democracy, the election system may be rather unfair because a presidential candidate with fewer popular votes may become president. c) Russia offers the most balanced system of elections despite some procedural flaws, which will fade away with time. d) The decision of the Russian president to appoint governors disrupted the process of democratization in the country. e) “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time( Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947, British politician (1874 - 1965).

4. Explain how all the information above and the discussions you have had have raised your awareness on the political structures of the three countries.

5. Read the essay below, authored by Yulia Latynina, a well-known Russian journalist, which contests the fairness of the election systems in the world in general. Paraphrase underlined words and word expression and explain how your position differs or coincides with that of the author.

Letting Poor People Vote Is Dangerous

Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election — not unlike the victories of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Adolf Hitler — once again raises doubt about the basic premise of democracy: that the people are capable of choosing their own leader. Unfortunately, only wealthy people are truly capable of electing their leaders in a responsible manner. Poor people elect politicians like Yanukovych or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. When the Orange Revolution hit Ukraine five years ago, the people arose in a united wave and did not allow themselves to be deceived by the corrupt elite. That elite had reached an agreement with the criminals and oligarchs of Donetsk to make a minor criminal, who could not string two sentences together, the successor to former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Five years ago, the Ukrainian people gave President Viktor Yushchenko a mandate for reform, but he failed. The country remains highly corrupt. One example: Yushchenko himself allowed the murky scheme in which all Russian gas came into the country through the intermediary firm RosUkrEnergo. Whenever a weak leader is incapable of managing the state, he starts looking for enemies and begins stoking nationalist passions. Yushchenko singled out Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as his enemy and engaged her in a heated polemic over the Holodomor. Another strategy used by a weak leader boils down to: “If I can’t achieve a certain goal, then I’ll do everything possible so that my opponent doesn’t achieve it.” Yushchenko adopted this policy, calculating his every move to make life as difficult as possible for his successor — and, as a result, for the Ukrainian people as well. A key step in Yushchenko’s deliberate campaign of destruction was his decision to sign a law raising salaries and pensions by 20 percent, thus increasing the budget deficit by $9 billion in a single stroke. Right now, Ukraine is bankrupt and survives only with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund. Although the IMF warned that it would cut off its support if Yushchenko signed the law, he signed it anyway at the end of his term, knowing that his successor would have to deal with the severe consequences. Yushchenko’s term in office proves that the weaker the leader, the more the leader praises the “greatness” of the country. But Yushchenko’s failures do not compromise the idea of democracy; they only compromised his own reputation. It’s a different story with Yanukovych. Can you imagine U.S. voters putting a leader in the White House who is a puppet of the ruling elite and criminal clans? Ukraine’s recent election witnessed the convergence of democracy’s two greatest weaknesses — the tendency to fear strong individuals (Tymoshenko) and the tendency to vote for simple-minded people (Yanukovych). Poor people are capable of feats of bravery and revolution. They can storm the Bastille, overthrow the tsar or stage an Orange Revolution. But impoverished people are incapable of making sober decisions and voting responsibly in a popular election. And this, unfortunately, applies to Russia as well. In the unfair presidential election of 2000, Vladimir Putin emerged the winner. Who would have won in an honest election? Mayor Yury Luzhkov?

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