Wednesday, October 01, 2014


The Power Vertical

Unseemly Haste

The Federation Council discusses the amendments on November 26.The Federation Council discusses the amendments on November 26.
x
The Federation Council discusses the amendments on November 26.
The Federation Council discusses the amendments on November 26.

The Federation Council today signed off on the ratification process of the constitutional amendments that will extend the presidential term of office to six years and that of Duma deputies to five. And what a whirlwind ride it has been!

 

President Dmitry Medvedev first proposed the innovations in his address to the Federal Assembly on November 5. Duma deputies mulled the portentous innovations for a couple of weeks and duly raised their hands on November 21. The Federation Council signed on on November 26, sending the measure to the regional legislatures for their consideration. The approval of two-thirds of those bodies was required for the changes to become law.

 

On November 27 -- one day after the Federation Council voted! -- Kabardino-Balkariya became the first region to OK the changes. On December 16, 60 of the country's 83 regional legislatures had approved the changes, passing the two-thirds mark and by December 18, all 83 had unanimously said, "Let's go!" Today -- December 22 -- the Federation Council approved those approvals, and all that is left is for Medvedev to sign on the dotted line. Around the Russian Federation in 47 days.

 

By comparison, the inefficient Americans took just less than four years to pass the 22nd amendment to their constitution, the one that barred a person from being elected president more than two times. That change was introduced in Congress on March 21, 1947 and became law on February 28, 1951. Or consider the 25th amendment, which established the order of succession if the president cannot complete his or her term of office. That one was proposed on July 6, 1965 and ratified on February 10, 1967.

 

But Russia isn't the only country trying to improve its democracy by toying with presidential terms. Washington ProFile reports that 26 countries have done so since 1992. Fourteen of them -- paragons like Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Uganda, and -- now -- Russia -- have loosened up restrictions on how many times a person can be elected president and/or have lengthened terms of office. Similar changes are now under way in Azerbaijan, as well.

 

Only France, for some reason, is swimming against this tide. In 2000, the French reduced the presidential term from seven years to five, arguing that seven years is too long and a shorter term would be "more modern" and allow citizens to vote more often. Medvedev, to the extent that he explained his reasoning on extending the term at all, argued that leaders need time to implement their decisions so that voters can judge them on their results rather than their promises.

 

(Incidentally, gazeta.ru spoke with one of the authors of Russia's constitution, Sergei Shakrai, about the term changes and other constitutional modifications under discussion. That interview is available in English here.)

 

But Russia's sprint to the finish may not be as smooth as Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hoped. The liberal Yabloko party today issued a statement declaring that the Federation Council's final seal of approval today is illegal. The approval was based on the federal law On the Acceptance and Coming into Force of Amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. That law specifies that the Federation Council must give the regional legislatures one full year to ratify the amendments and must consider their ratifications at its first session following the expiration of that one-year period. There is no exception to this clause in the event that enough legislatures approve the changes before the deadline or even, as in this case, if all legislatures do so.

 

According to Yabloko, the law was written this way (in 1998) "in order to avoid haste and accepting amendments to the basic law of the country without due discussion." It gives regional legislatures enough time to reconsider their approvals or disapprovals, allowing a democratic deliberative process to unfold at the regional level. The provision that regional legislatures could change their minds on approval could potentially be important (maybe not in Putin's Russia, but theoretically....) in regions holding legislative elections during the approval year. Nine regions of Russia will be holding such elections in March.

 

Of course, the Kremlin will have its way on this issue, but Yabloko could make trouble. The party has vowed to contest this point through the Russian court system and, most likely, would not balk at taking it to the European Court of Human Rights. That court is already considering cases that could potentially nullify the 2007 Duma elections (won't happen, but it could....). Having a high-visibility international forum like the Strasbourg court render judgment on such key aspects of the Putinist political system is an embarrassment the Kremlin certainly would have preferred to avoid. But the ghosts of Russia's 1998 lawmakers are still haunting the country's political process.

 

-- Robert Coalson

Tags: terms,amendments,Russia

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum yet. Be the first to add one.

The Power Vertical Feed

LIVE Russia in real time. More

Mikhail Zygar, editor in Chief of Dozhd TV, wins International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists

Some reactions to Russia ending the FLEX high school exchange program:

Stanford University Professor Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Ukrainian Social Researcher Irene Fedets

Fulbright Scholar Sergeu Kostyaev

Lena Osipova, OPhD Student at School of International Service, American University

From the always insightful Sean Guillory

"Novorossyia is just a cinematic project to rile up the population anyway. The “heroes” have always been actors in a larger drama, and when this series jumps the shark, its production set will be folded up and the stage will be prepared for a new theatrical work to dazzle the spectator. The cinematography deployed to turn Russia into “war state” is all just the tactics. We shouldn’t so quickly substitute smoke and mirrors for reality. Putin’s real strategy is to hobble Ukraine and humble the West, and on that he’s doing pretty damn well."

As usual, Paul Goble already a lot of great content up at his Window on Eurasia blog. Does that man ever sleep? As I've said before, Window on Eurasia is one of the best resources available in the English language for Russia watchers. The volume of material -- not to mention the quality -- is amazing. Does this guy ever sleep? 

A couple things that immediately caught my eye today:

A post about how Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka is "quietly purging" a "pro-Moscow 'Fifth Column'" in his regime. 

"Concerned that Moscow might engineer a regime change in Belarus as a follow on to its actions in Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been purging pro-Russian officials from his regime – but in a very quiet way lest he provoke Moscow as a result."

The piece cited reports in "Nasha Niva" and "Obozrevatel

There's also a piece, citing the web portal "Novy Kaliningrad" that looks at whether Kaliningrad's Muslim community might rebel against Moscow. 

"The 100,000-strong Muslim community of Kaliningrad is running out of options in the Russian legal system to secure land for the construction of a mosque in that Russian exclave and consequently will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, according to their lawyer Dagir Khasavov.

But meanwhile, continuing opposition by regional officials to a mosque, Irshat Khisamov, head of the Muslim community in the oblast, says, is having “an extremely negative” impact on the members of his community. And many of them believe the governor there wants 'a Maidan like the one in Ukraine.'"

 

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or