On the 12th of December, 2013, Russia celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
The current Constitution of the Russian Federation 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.
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.
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.
Especially on human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Constitution provides for human rights and freedom of citizen according to the universally recognized principles and norm of international law as well as the Constitution 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 recognized human rights and freedom.
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. 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. 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.
The Constitution prescribes that the Government of Russia, is the executive branch of state power and is consisting 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation – full text download link.