Constitution of Russia

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Constitution of Russia
Presidential copy of the Constitution.
Presidential copy of the Constitution.
Ratified December 12, 1993
Location Moscow Kremlin
Signatories Citizens of Russia
Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Russia

The current Constitution of the Russian Federation (Russian: Конституция Российской Федерации, Konstitutsiya Rossiyskoy Federatsii; pronounced [kənsʲtʲɪˈtutsɨjə rɐˈsʲijskəj fʲɪdʲɪˈratsɨɪ]) was adopted by national referendum on December 12, 1993. Russia's constitution came into force on December 25, 1993, at the moment of its official publication, and abolished the Soviet system of government. The current Constitution is the most long-lived in the history of Russia, except for the Stalin's constitution.

The 1993 Constitutional Conference was attended by over 800 participants. Sergei Alexeyev, Sergey Shakhray and sometimes Anatoly Sobchak are considered as co-authors of the constitution. The text of the constitution was inspired by Mikhail Speransky's constitutional project and current French constitution.[1]

A constitutional referendum was held in Russia on 12 December 1993. Of all registered voters, 58,187,755 people (or 54.8%) participated in the referendum. Of those, 32,937,630 (54.5%) voted for adoption of the Constitution.[2] It replaced the previous Soviet-era Constitution of April 12, 1978 of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (which had already been amended in April 1992 to reflect the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the sovereignty of the Russian Federation), following the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis.

History[edit]

Constitutions in 19th and 20th centuries[edit]

Constitution of Russia after USSR[edit]

A new written constitution for the independent state of Russia became a key aspect of Yeltsin’s struggle with the Russian Parliament for control of Russian politics in 1992–93. In this struggle, Yeltsin repeatedly stated that the true cornerstone of Russian democracy must be popular sovereignty (Narodovlastie).

As the Parliament opposed his attempts to implement his economic transformation, he appealed to popular sovereignty to advance his agenda. In a December 10, 1992 speech, President Yeltsin addressed the Parliament that refused to renew his emergency decree powers. He criticized the current Soviet-era constitutional system for giving too much power to the legislature:[3]

“The constitution, or what has become of it, is turning the Supreme Soviet, its leadership and its Chairman into the absolute rulers of Russia ... In this situation, I consider it necessary to appeal directly to the citizens of Russia, to all the voters. To those who voted for me in the election and thanks to whom I became President of Russia. My proposal is based on the constitutional principle of constituent power (narodovlastie), on the President’s constitutional right to appeal to the people.”

— Boris Yeltsin, 10 December 1992

A wide referendum was ultimately held in April, 1993. The key question for Yeltsin’s team in this referendum was: “Do you have confidence in Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia?” Although the Constitutional Court ruled that a majority of voters voicing support for Yeltsin would have no “legal significance” and therefore would not make any legal changes to the constitution. When the results were counted, 58.7% of voters expressed their confidence in Yeltsin.[4]

Yeltsin immediately proclaimed that “the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic has been peacefully replaced by the Russian Federation. The state has changed its legal identity”. One of Yeltsin’s constitutional aides held a press conference and stated that the Congress could no longer legally remove the President from his post, force the government to resign, or adopt a new constitution.[5] Asked what would happen if the Congress failed to comply, he said "the president and the government received a vote of confidence in the referendum. They will conduct the economic reform on the basis of their own decisions".

Yeltsin then convened an extralegal institution that he felt would represent the will of the people: the Constituent Assembly of Russia. Yeltsin saw the assembly as a kind of proto-government, commenting that "it seems to me that the constitutional assembly can be transferred into a Federation Council and will be one of the houses of parliament".

When it became clear that the regional parliaments would not ratify the Draft Constitution produced by the Constitutional Convention, Yeltsin moved to end the gridlock by dissolving the Russian Parliament (as well as all the regional parliaments). Yeltsin premised this decree on the parliament’s "direct opposition to the will of the people, reflected in the referendum of April 25, 1993. This referendum had the highest possible legal force across the entire Russian nation".

Yeltsin expressed similar sentiments in his televised address to Russians, arguing that the Parliament and the constitution under which it drew its powers were unconstitutional because of their opposition to the people’s will. Soon after, the Ministry of Justice issued a statement asserting that although the President "acted beyond the formal legal framework, he acted in accordance with the constitutional principles of government by the people, insurance of the country’s security and protection of the rights and lawful interests of citizens ... although, as a formal matter, he exceeded his powers, he used this violation, not to usurp power but to protect the will of the people". The Parliament refused to accede and a constitutional crisis ensued.

After dispersing the Parliament by force, Yeltsin decided to ratify his new Draft Constitution through a referendum. "Only by relying on the will of the people, we can strengthen Russian statehood and overcome the legacy of the Communist and Soviet past and the consequences of dual power".[6]

Yeltsin held the Russian constitutional referendum of 1993 which confirmed the Yeltsin constitutional convention's draft 58%-42% with a 55% turnout. During the run-up to the referendum, virtually all opposition voices and views were excluded from national mass media and TV coverage was heavily slanted in favor of constitutional adoption.

Structure[edit]

The constitution is divided into two sections.

Section One[edit]

  1. Fundamentals of the Constitutional System
  2. Rights and Liberties of Man and Citizen
  3. Federative system
  4. President of the Russian Federation
  5. Federal Assembly
  6. Government of the Russian Federation
  7. Judiciary
  8. Local Self-Government
  9. Constitutional Amendments and Revisions

Section Two[edit]

  1. Concluding and Transitional Provisions

Overview[edit]

The Russian Constitution is based on world standards for human rights and basic principles of democratic state-building such as ideological neutrality of the state, political pluralism, competitive elections and separation of powers. The constitution establishes a semi-presidential system, resembling the French system but with stronger executive power, due to the increased independence of the president in comparison to the French model.[7]

Especially on human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Constitution provides for human rights and freedom of citizen accoding to the universally recognised principles and norm of international law as well as the Constitution[8] and affirms that the listing in the Constitution of the Russian Federation of the fundamental rights and freedom shall not be interpreted as a rejection and derogation of other universally recognised human rights and freedom.[9]

Presidency[edit]

Dmitry Medvedev takes the presidential oath with his hand resting on the Constitution, May 7, 2008.

The President of the Russian Federation holds primary power in the Russian political system. The President, who is elected for a six-year term (following the 2008 Amendments to the constitution), is the head of state and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.[10] He determines "guidelines for the domestic and foreign policy of the state". Although the President may preside over Government meetings, he is not the head of the Russian Government and not part of the executive branch. According to some scholars, the president appears not a component part, peak, or personification of the executive power, but as a strong, influential, and endowed with wide powers head of the state. At the same time, they believe that this is an inevitable necessity predetermined by the recognition of the principle of division of power so to say, keeping in balance the entire State mechanism. The president realizes this destination without substituting and moving aside other authorities, without infringing upon their independence and interfering into their Constitutional powers.[11]

As the head of state, the President appoints the members of the Government and directs its activities. While in general the presidential "direction" of the activities of the Government is limited to establishing guidelines, under the 1997 Constitutional Law on the Government the President has a direct authority over ministries dealing with defense, security, internal and foreign affairs.

Executive branch[edit]

The constitution prescribes that the Government of Russia, is the executive branch of state power and consists 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.

Legislative branch[edit]

The legislature’s innate checks and balances are reflected in the ability of the Federal Council to examine and subsequently revise or reject legislation passed by the Duma. With its bill rejected by the Federation Council, the State Duma in its turn may override the rejection by a two-thirds vote. The legislative branch may check the presidential power of the Russian Federation through hearing the addresses of the President by both houses of the Federal Assembly, giving approval to the decree of the president on the introduction of martial law and state of emergency, granting consent to the president for the appointment of the chairman of the government, the chairman of the Central Bank, the Prosecutor General, members of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and more.

Judiciary[edit]

The Russian Constitution provides for a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court, a Supreme Court of Arbitration, and for the development of various lower courts. Because the Constitutional Court is the only judicial body endowed with the ability to rule on the constitutionality of laws and government acts, it is the most important segment of the judiciary for the purposes of examining the interaction of the other branches. It is worth noting that a proposed bill now under consideration in the Russian Duma will merge the Supreme Court of Arbitration (and its lower courts) with the Supreme Court.

In contrast, the Constitution withholds several areas of traditional court jurisdiction from the Court and instead gives them to the President. The President is the guarantor of the Constitution and of the civil rights and freedoms of the Russian citizenry. The President also assures the coordinated functioning of the organs of government. It appears that the Court only hears intra-governmental disputes when the President refers such disputes to it. Traditionally, the judiciary has been considered the final guarantor of these provisions.

Local government[edit]

The Constitution charges the Federal government and its subjects jointly to establish the general principles of state administration and local government organization. Though somewhat vague, this wording is usually interpreted to mean that the regional and federal state authorities follow one structure of administration, with regional government bodies reproducing the major features of federal government bodies. The structure of local governments, on the other hand, is determined entirely at the discretion of the population, according to article 131 of the Constitution. Thus, both federal and regional legislation establish only general principles of organization for local self-government, while actual structures may vary among municipalities.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sergey Shakhray - The Voice of Russia on YouTube
  2. ^ Constitution of Russia: nature, evolution, modernity 1.4.2 National character. (Russian)
  3. ^ Izvestiia, p. 1. December 10, 1992.
  4. ^ S. A. Avakian, Konstitutsiia Rossii: priroda, evolutsiia, sovremennost’. “Sashko”, 2000.
  5. ^ Sergei Shakhrai: The Deputies must repeal their most recent decisions, Rossiskiye Vesti (April 28, 1993),
  6. ^ Izvestiia, Nov. 10, 1993 p. 1. “Boris Yeltsin: The New Constitution will Protect Democracy in Russia.”
  7. ^ Andrea Chandler, "Presidential Veto Power in Post Communist Russia, 1994-1998", Canadian Journal of Political Science
  8. ^ Article 17
  9. ^ Article 55. 1
  10. ^ Articles 80 (1), 81 (1), 87 (1) of the Constitution of Russia
  11. ^ YURI PIVOVAROV POWER INSTITUTIONS IN POST-COMMUNIST RUSSIA: OFFICIAL FORMS AND HIDDEN TRANSCRIPTS

External links[edit]