Federal Assembly

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The Federal Assembly became Russia's parliament with the adoption of a new constitution and elections in December 1993. It was constituted in the shadow of the dissolution and shelling of its predecessor, the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, by president Yeltsin in October 1993. The Federal Assembly is a bicameral parliament, composed of State Duma (the lower house) and Federation Council (the upper house). The first Duma served for a transitional term of two years. Since December 1995, Duma deputies have been elected to four‐year terms.

The State Duma has 450 seats. Up to 2007 members of the lower house were elected through a mixed electoral system: 225 deputies were chosen by proportional representation from national party lists, subject to a 5 per cent threshold, and the remaining 225 deputies were elected through plurality elections in single member districts. President Vladimir Putin reformed the electoral system and the December 2007 Duma elections were held under a closed‐list proportional representation system. Now all 450 deputies are elected from party lists in a single national electoral district. Parties must receive at least 7 per cent of the vote in order to gain seats, and seats are distributed in proportion to the vote‐share won by parties. Votes for parties that do not cross the 7 per cent threshold are redistributed to benefit those parties which achieve Duma representation.

The Duma is Russia's principal legislative institution. Although the legislative process requires the Duma to cooperate with up to three other actors—the Federation Council, the president, and, in specified areas of economic legislation, the government too—no bill can become law without the Duma's endorsement. Moreover, the Duma has the power to approve or reject the president's choice of prime minister and can vote no confidence in the government.

Politically, the Duma's composition has changed markedly since 1993. The lower house was politically fragmented and worked without a governing majority throughout the 1990s. It was also largely hostile to President Boris Yeltsin, particularly after the December 1995 elections. Following his election in 2000, President Putin undertook a series of reforms to build a pro‐presidential parliamentary majority. Changes to the Duma's electoral rules, the law on parties, and also electoral manipulation, especially in the 2003 and 2007 parliamentary elections, led to the increasing dominance of the pro‐presidential United Russia party in the lower house. In the elections of 2007 United Russia won over 64 per cent of the vote, a result which, together with the redistribution of votes won by parties that did not cross the 7 per cent threshold, put it in control of 70 per cent of the Duma seats.

The upper house, the Federation Council, is composed of two representatives from each of the subjects of the Russian Federation, irrespective of federal status or population size. The Russian Constitution of 1993 does not specify how the upper house is to be composed and, after a transitional period in which Council members were elected, the Council was from 1995 composed ex officio of the heads of each federation subject's executive and legislative branch. As a consequence, the Federation Council became a part‐time chamber, which gave regional officials a powerful voice in national politics. President Putin (elected in 2000) reformed the upper house. Senators can no longer be regional officials serving in an ex officio capacity but are now delegates, one elected by the regional legislature, the other nominated by the regional governor subject to confimation by the legislature. This reform reduced the direct voice of regional leaders in national politics. In addition, President Putin combined the reform of the upper house with federal reforms, which transformed governors, who used to be popularly elected, into presidential appointees. These changes have enhanced the president's ablity to control the political composition of the upper house through his gubernatorial appointees.


Subjects: Politics.

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