Russia is a federal presidential republic
The executive power is split between the President and the Prime Minister, but the President is the dominant figure. The legislature is represented by the Federal Assembly of Russia. It has two chambers: the State Duma – the lower house, and the Federation Council – the upper house. The judicial power is vested in courts and administered by the Ministry of Justice.
The President is the head of state and is elected by popular vote every six years for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The original constitution had four-year presidential terms, but this was amended to six years by parliament late in 2008. The new rules will not apply to the current administration and will come into effect only after the next election, due in 2012. The President’s working residence is in the Moscow Kremlin. The President determines the basic domestic and foreign policy, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, can veto legislative bills, resolves issues of citizenship of the Russian Federation, awards state decorations and grants pardons.
Government duties are split between a number of ministries, some of which, in turn, have federal services and federal agencies answerable to them. The head of government, the prime minister, is appointed by the president and confirmed by the State Duma. The government is housed in the so-called White House in Moscow. The government ensures the implementation of domestic and foreign policy, works out the federal budget, oversees the implementation of financial and monetary policy, ensures the rule of law, human rights and freedoms.
The bicameral Federal Assembly makes federal law, approves treaties, declares war and has the power of the purse. Both its chambers are located in Moscow.
The Federation Council
The Federation Council of Russia is the upper house of the Russian Parliament. Created by the 1993 constitution, it was to act as a voice of Russia’s federated entities. The Council has explicitly stated that no political factions are to exist in the upper house.
Unlike the State Duma, the Council isn’t directly elected. It consists of representatives of Russia’s federal entities – each has two. One is elected by the entity’s legislature; the other is nominated by the entity’s head. The terms of the members aren’t nationally fixed, but depend on the terms of the regional bodies that chose them.
The Council works with the lower chamber to complete and vote on draft laws. But the Federation Council also has special powers of its own, including the declaration of a presidential election, impeachment of the President and decisions on the use of the armed forces outside Russia’s territory.
The State Duma
The State Duma is the lower house of the Russian Parliament. The 450 deputies are elected for terms of five years following constitutional amendments agreed by parliament late in 2008. However, the original term of four years will apply to the current Duma, as the new rules do not come into effect until after the next election. Any Russian citizen over the age of 21 is eligible to run. Half the seats used to be filled through proportional representation and the other half through single seat constituencies. Now the system has changed.
The 2007 parliamentary election used a new format whereby all deputies were elected from party-lists through proportional representation.
The term Duma comes from the Russian “dumat” (“to think”). Compared to some European democracies, the Russian Duma is quite a youngster. Founded in 1906, it didn’t survive the 1917 revolution. But it bounced back in 1993, when Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, introduced a new constitution.
All bills, even those proposed by the Federation Council, must first be considered by the State Duma. Once a bill is passed by a majority in the Duma, a draft law is sent back to the Federation Council. If the Council rejects it, the two chambers may form a commission to work out a compromise.
Three types of court make up the Russian judiciary:
- The courts of general jurisdiction (including military courts), subordinated to the Supreme Court;
- He arbitration court system under the High Court of Arbitration;
- The Constitutional Court (as well as constitutional courts in a number of federal entities)
The municipal court is the lowest adjudicating body in the general court system. It serves each city or rural district and hears more than 90 per cent of all civil and criminal cases. The next level of courts of general jurisdiction is the regional courts. At the highest level is the Supreme Court. Decisions of the lower trial courts can generally be appealed only to the immediately superior court.
Arbitration courts are in practice specialised courts which resolve property and commercial disputes between economic agents. The highest level of court resolving economic disputes is the High Court of Arbitration.
The Constitutional Court is empowered to rule on whether or not laws or presidential decrees are constitutional. If it finds that a law is unconstitutional, the law becomes unenforceable and governmental agencies are barred from implementing it. The judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court are appointed by the parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council.