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Russia: Duma Votes On Starting Impeachment Charges Tomorrow

  • Floriana Fossato

Moscow, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, held its second day of impeachment hearings against President Boris Yeltsin today.

Hearings started yesterday, one day after Yeltsin further complicated the political battles in Moscow by sacking Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and his government.

Yeltsin named First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to replace Primakov. The candidate, however, has to be approved by the Duma.

Here, in brief, are the rules on impeachment and on votes for prime minister, as stated in Russia's Constitution:

The vote on whether or not to start impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin is scheduled to take place tomorrow,(May 15). A tentative timetable sets the vote at 1600 Moscow time. But last-minute changes are possible.

There are five impeachment charges against Yeltsin. The Duma is expected to vote on each of them separately.

Deputies will first vote on whether to hold an open or secret ballot. Until recently, regulations allowed only a secret ballot on an impeachment vote. Last month, legislators approved several amendments aimed at simplifying the procedure and can now hold an open vote. An open vote is seen as boosting the chances of impeachment, as it would increase discipline within parliamentary groups.

If the vote is open, each deputy will receive five different-colored ballots for each charge.

Four hundred and fifty deputies formally sit in the communist and nationalist-dominated State Duma, elected in 1995.

At present, however, only 442 are attending parliamentary sessions. Some deputies have died since 1995 and have not been replaced. Some others, notably Boris Fedorov, assumed cabinet positions last year and their seats have not been filled.

Despite this discrepancy in numbers, a two-thirds majority of the formal number is required for the approval of at least one charge. Thus, only if at least one charge wins 300 votes in the Duma will impeachment proceedings officially start.

According to Article 109 of the Constitution, if the Duma votes to impeach the president, he is automatically forbidden from disbanding the chamber.

After the vote, the Duma will have five days to submit the approved charge, or charges, to the Supreme Court, which must rule on their legal content, and to the Constitutional Court, which decides on the constitutionality of the proceedings.

If both courts give a positive ruling, the accusations would then go to the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, composed of influential regional bosses, for approval. A two-thirds majority vote is required in the Council to approve the president's removal from office.

The procedure is complex and multi-staged, but it does have a timetable. Article 93 of the Constitution rules that if the Federation Council has not taken a final decision on the impeachment of the president within three months of its approval by the Duma, then proceedings are considered to have failed.

The schedule and regulations for approving the nomination of a new prime minister are as follows:

The State Duma has scheduled the first of three possible votes on whether or not to approve the presidential nominee for the post of premier on Wednesday (May 19).

A simple majority is needed to approve the candidate. The simple majority is calculated on the basis of the number of deputies formally sitting in the Duma, that is, 450. This means that at least 226 votes are needed for the candidate's approval.

The president has the right to name another candidate after a negative vote. The Duma has the right to examine each candidature for 7 days. According to Article 111 of the Constitution, if the Duma refuses three times to approve a presidential candidate --in this case Stepashin, or another candidate Yeltsin may propose if on Wednesday he is not approved-- the president must dissolve the Duma and schedule parliamentary elections within three months.

Articles 109 and 111 of the Constitution, therefore, clearly contradict each other. The first prohibits the president from disbanding the Duma if it has voted for impeachment. But the second requires that he disband the body if it rejects his choice for prime minister three times.

The contradiction is creating fears in Moscow of a possible constitutional deadlock that could lead to unpredictable Kremlin moves.

(Note that the text of the Russian Constitution can be found on the Internet, in Russian, under:

(This is the first of a two-part series)