The Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted by the National Referendum on 12 December 1993. The Constitution defines the sovereign power of the Russian Federation, describes its federal structure, governing system and the principle human rights enjoyed by citizens of Russia. The Russian Federation is governed by a political system modelled after many in the West. The governing system is composed of three branches: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Federal Structure: Local and Federal Government
The Russian Federation consists of 89 'subjects', including regions, ethnically based autonomous republics, territories and the federal cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. The Constitution granted these 'subjects' certain autonomy over internal economic and political affairs.
The Constitution sets out a general list of powers reserved to the Federal authorities. Other powers are expressed as jointly exercised by the Federal and local authorities. The regional authorities are then allocated all other powers not specifically reserved by the Federal Government or exercised jointly. These powers include the power to manage municipal property, establish regional budgets, collect regional taxes, and maintain law and order. Bilateral power-sharing treaties between the central government and the 'subjects' of the Russian Federation have become an important means of defining and clarifying the boundaries of their respective power and authority. The Constitution gives regional bodies the authority to pass laws provided those laws do not contradict the Constitution and existing federal laws. Many 'subjects', however, have adopted their own constitutions, which in several cases allocate powers to the regional government that are inconsistent with the provisions of the Federal Constitution.
Executive Branch and its Structure
Under the Constitution, the executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected for a four-year term. The Constitution does not provide for a vice president. The president has the right to choose the prime minister, with the approval of the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament). The president, upon the recommendation of the prime minister, appoints ministers, who are responsible for the introduction of primary and secondary legislation in their respective fields.
Russia's president determines the basic direction of Russia's domestic and foreign policy and represents the Russian state within the country and in foreign affairs. The president is commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces; he approves defence doctrine, appoints and removes the commanders of the armed forces and confers higher military ranks and awards.
The president has broad authority to issue decrees and directives that have the force of law although the Constitution states that they must not contradict other federal laws or the Constitution. In certain circumstances, the president has the right to dissolve the Duma.
Parliament and the Basics of the Legislative Process
The legislative branch of the Russian Federation is the chamber Federal Assembly (federalnoye sobraniye), which consists of the Federation Council (sovet federatsii) (178 seats, filled by the representatives of executive and legislative branches of power of each of the 89 federal administrative units) and the State Duma (gosudarstvennaya duma) (450 seats, half elected by proportional representation from party lists, and half from single-member constituencies; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms)
The Federal Assembly is a permanently functioning body, in that it is in continuous session except for a regular break between the spring and autumn sessions. Deputies of the State Duma work full-time on their legislative duties; they are not allowed to serve simultaneously in local government or to hold Federal Government positions.
Each legislative chamber elects a chairman who controls the procedure of the chamber. The chambers also form committees and commissions to deal with particular types of issue. They prepare and evaluate draft laws, report on draft laws to their chambers, conduct hearings, and oversee implementation of the laws.
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 High Arbitration Court. Draft laws are first considered in the State Duma and must pass three readings before being passed to the Federation Council. After adoption by a majority of the State Duma members, a draft law is considered by the Federation Council. If a bill is rejected by the Federation Council, a Conciliation Commission may be established, comprising representatives of the Duma and Federation Council, to review and amend the draft before it is presented again to the Federation Council. The establishment of a Conciliation commission is the prescribed procedure to work out differences in bills which have been considered by both chambers.
When a draft law is adopted by the Federation Council, it must be signed into law by the president. The president has a veto, which if exercised can be overridden by a resolution passed by two-thirds of the members of the Duma and Federation Council.
The judicial system in the Russian Federation is split into three branches: the courts of general jurisdiction with the Supreme Court at the top, the 'arbitrazhniy' or commercial court system with the High Arbitrazhniy Court as the supreme body, and the Constitutional Court. The judicial system is also divided into a federal system and a system of local courts of the various subjects of the Russian Federation.
The Constitutional Court decides whether federal and local legislation and regulations comply with the Constitution. The Constitutional Court also resolves jurisdictional disputes between federal or local authorities, and it may interpret and clarify the Constitution.
Criminal, civil and administrative cases involving individuals not engaged in business activity are dealt with by the courts of general jurisdiction. The initial stage in the system is the magistrate. Magistrates serve each city district and rural district. The whole system consists of the magistrates, district courts of general jurisdiction, Supreme Courts of the constituent subjects of the Russian Federation, and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Decisions of the lower courts of general jurisdiction can be appealed through intermediate district courts and the Supreme Courts of the subject of the Russian Federation up to the Federal Supreme Court.
As established by the New Arbitration Procedure Code which came into force on 1 September 2002, economic disputes involving legal entities, individuals engaged in business activity and disputes between legal entities and its participants (shareholders) are dealt with by the 'arbitrazhniy' or commercial arbitration courts. These are sometimes referred to, rather misleadingly, as 'arbitration courts'. The arbitrazhniy court system consists of arbitrazhniy courts of the subjects of the Russian Federation, federal arbitrazhniy courts and the High Arbitrazhniy Court of the Russian Federation. The High Arbitrazhniy Court is the highest court for the resolution of economic disputes.
The Ministry of Justice administers Russia's judicial system. The Ministry's responsibilities include administrating the court system, supervising court activity and organisation, as well as performing a number of other supervisory, administrative and systematic functions.
Law enforcement functions are performed by the Procurator General's Office (procuratura), which has local offices in cities and provinces, by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and by the Federal Security Service. The Procurator's office supervises the law enforcement agencies and investigates crimes and prosecutes offenders. The Ministry of Internal Affairs controls all the various police agencies and supervises prisons and the fire service. The Federal Security Service (formerly the KGB) is responsible for counterintelligence work and investigates organised crime and terrorism.
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