Constitutional Roulette: The Russian Parliament's Battle with the President Over Appointing a Prime Minister
57 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2014
Date Written: November 10, 2014
Russia adopted a new constitution in December of 1993. This document created a separation of powers imbalance that granted the country's presidency great powers relative to those of its parliament. Most scholars believe this imbalance has allowed Russia’s president to dominate parliament, exacerbating a power imbalance between the branches that has hindered Russia’s democratic development. This article examines the specific constitutional powers of the Russian presidency and parliament over the nomination of the Russian prime minister and argues that the Russian president may not always be as strong as the conventional wisdom holds. While Russia’s constitution provides for a strong presidency, this is not the same as guaranteeing a strong president. To put it another way, there may be a difference between the powers granted to an office and how they are able to be used by its occupant.
Numerous factors restrict a president from exercising his constitutional powers. The first has to do with the nature of the legislative majority that stands opposite him. If parliament is able to cobble a strong majority to stand in opposition to the president’s agenda, the president will function as if he has clipped wings. A second factor is institutional. Many constitutions contain clauses that restrict executive power during certain period of time. Yet a third external factor has to do with society. Even when presidents are inclined to stretch the limits of their powers, they can be held back by a nation's temperament. In September of 1998, as this article shows, the temperament of the Russian people sided with Russia’s parliament. It made parliament victorious in its negotiations with the president over the appointment of a prime minister, and it paved the way for a new, although ultimately brief, chapter in the history of executive-legislative relations in Russia.
Keywords: comparative constitutional law, Russian law, democracy, constitution-making
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