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Russia

Legislative Powers

The two chambers of the Federal Assembly possess different powers and responsibilities, with the State Duma the more powerful. The Federation Council, as its name and composition implies, deals primarily with issues of concern to the subnational jurisdictions, such as adjustments to internal borders and decrees of the president establishing martial law or states of emergency. As the upper chamber, it also has responsibilities in confirming and removing the procurator general and confirming justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Superior Court of Arbitration, upon the recommendation of the president. The Federation Council also is entrusted with the final decision if the State Duma recommends removing the president from office. The constitution also directs that the Federation Council examine bills passed by the lower chamber dealing with budgetary, tax, and other fiscal measures, as well as issues dealing with war and peace and with treaty ratification.

In the consideration and disposition of most legislative matters, however, the Federation Council has less power than the State Duma. All bills, even those proposed by the Federation Council, must first be considered by the State Duma. If the Federation Council rejects a bill passed by the State Duma, the two chambers may form a conciliation commission to work out a compromise version of the legislation. The State Duma then votes on the compromise bill. If the State Duma objects to the proposals of the upper chamber in the conciliation process, it may vote by a two-thirds majority to send its version to the president for signature. The part-time character of the Federation Council's work, its less developed committee structure, and its lesser powers vis--vis the State Duma make it more a consultative and reviewing body than a law-making chamber.

Because the Federation Council initially included many regional administrators appointed by Yeltsin, that body often supported the president and objected to bills approved by the State Duma, which had more anti-Yeltsin deputies. The power of the upper chamber to consider bills passed by the lower chamber resulted in its disapproval of about one-half of such bills, necessitating concessions by the State Duma or votes to override upper-chamber objections. In February 1996, the heads of the two chambers pledged to try to break this habit, but wrangling appeared to intensify in the months that followed.

The State Duma confirms the appointment of the prime minister, although it does not have the power to confirm Government ministers. The power to confirm or reject the prime minister is severely limited. According to the 1993 constitution, the State Duma must decide within one week to confirm or reject a candidate once the president has placed that person's name in nomination. If it rejects three candidates, the president is empowered to appoint a prime minister, dissolve the parliament, and schedule new legislative elections.

The State Duma's power to force the resignation of the Government also is severely limited. It may express a vote of no-confidence in the Government by a majority vote of all members of the State Duma, but the president is allowed to disregard this vote. If, however, the State Duma repeats the no-confidence vote within three months, the president may dismiss the Government. But the likelihood of a second no-confidence vote is virtually precluded by the constitutional provision allowing the president to dissolve the State Duma rather than the Government in such a situation. The Government's position is further buttressed by another constitutional provision that allows the Government at any time to demand a vote of confidence from the State Duma; refusal is grounds for the president to dissolve the Duma.

The Legislative Process

Draft laws may originate in either legislative chamber, or they may be submitted by the president, the Government, local legislatures, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, or the Superior Court of Arbitration. Draft laws are first considered in the State Duma. Upon adoption by a majority of the full State Duma membership, a draft law is considered by the Federation Council, which has fourteen days to place the bill on its calendar. Conciliation commissions are the prescribed procedure to work out differences in bills considered by both chambers.

A constitutional provision dictating that draft laws dealing with revenues and expenditures may be considered "only when the Government's findings are known" substantially limits the Federal Assembly's control of state finances. However, the legislature may alter finance legislation submitted by the Government at a later time, a power that provides a degree of traditional legislative control over the purse. The two chambers of the legislature also have the power to override a presidential veto of legislation. The constitution provides a high hurdle for an override, however, requiring at least a two-thirds vote of the total number of members of both chambers.

Data as of July 1996


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