Law of no importance


 

New law which changes the way the upper house of Russian parliament is formed created a lot of agitation. The law, we are told, is an assault on democracy. It gives senators the right to hold office for life. This is not true. The bill, proposed by those who run the Parliament (by Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the low house, and Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house) and passed in just one week, an unprecedented speed for a federal law, is not essential nor is it transformational.

The Federation Council is the upper house of the Russian parliament. It consists of two representatives from each region, one from a local legislative body and another from a governor. The original idea was that Russian senators would be the voice Russian provinces.

The powers of the Federation Council are wide: it calls the presidential elections and removes him from office in case of impeachment; it appoints judges of supreme courts and the Attorney General. Laws adopted by the State Duma must be approved by senators.

Yet today the Federation Council is, in essence, a rubber stamp. It silently observes other political actors playing and never raises its voice.

In eighteen years since Russian Parliament was created for the first time, the procedure of formation of its upper house has changed several times. In 1993 Russia's first senators were elected directly by the people. From 1996 and until 2000, a governor and the chairman of a local parliament ascended to the post automatically.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin cancelled gubernatorial elections. He also changed, once again, the way the Federation Council was formed. Now, the members of the upper house were appointed by governors and local legislators. Senators were no longer elected. The Federation Council turned into a club of billionaires who quite often didn’t have any relation to the regions they were supposed to represent.

A year ago, President Medvedev tried to introduce an element of parliamentarism in the way the upper house of Russian parliament is formed. Now a governor or a local legislative assembly can send to the Federation Council only those who won elections of some kind - municipal, regional or federal.

The extent to which Medvedev’s amendments returned the Federation Council closer to its original design is a difficult question. A step in the right direction it remained just that, a step.

Against this background, the recently passed law is inconsequential. All it says is that when regional authorities are dissolved prematurely, the representative of this Subject of the Federation can stay in office if his or her powers are confirmed by newly appointed governor or newly elected regional parliament. He or she doesn’t need to be re-elected.

The new law is no more than an occasion to reflect on the transformation the Federation Council has endured - from the assembly of regional leaders who earned their position in an open struggle to a club of very, very rich people far removed from public politics.

picture: © Igor Zakowski - Fotolia.com

 

 

The new law is no more than an occasion to reflect on the transformation the Federation Council has endured - from the assembly of regional leaders who earned their position in an open struggle to a club of very, very rich people far removed from public politics.
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