Constitution of 1993

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The Constitution of the Russian Federation was enacted on December 12, 1993 by a public plebiscite. With the breakup of the USSR in late 1991, Russia needed a new constitution to enshrine the democratic values of post-communist Russian society and to establish the legal foundations for its governing institutions.

The Constitution was the product of a three-year struggle between President Boris Yeltsin and his parliament. Throughout the period 1991 through 1993, various draft constitutions circulated. Some allocated the majority of power to a new parliament, while others favored a strong presidential system. Sharp differences also erupted between proponents of a strong central government, versus those who favored the devolution of power to the constituent republics and regions. Finally, the process by which a new constitution would be approved was not clear; some favored the convening of a constitutional congress, while others favored a referendum. The inability to resolve these issues resulted in a stalemate that led to Yeltsin's dissolution of the parliament and attack on the White House (Russia's parliament building) in October 1993.

Once ratified in December 1993, the Constitution established a strong presidential republic; some describe it as a superpresidential system. The Congress of People's Deputies was replaced with a bicameral (two-chamber) Federal Assembly. The upper chamber, the Federation Council, has 178 memberstwo from each of the eighty-nine republics and regions that comprise the Russian Federation. The Federation Council confirms appointments to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, authorizes the use of armed forces outside Russia, and considers legislation coming from the lower chamber on the budget, taxes and currency matters, international treaties, and domestic policies.

The lower chamber, the State Duma, is comprised of 450 deputies, one half elected by a plurality in each constituency and the other half from party lists on a proportional basis. The Duma confirms nominations for Prime Minister; can pass a bill of "lack of confidence" in the government and, if such a bill is passed twice in a three-month period, can force the president to announce the resignation of the government or dissolve the Duma itself. It also confirms and dismisses the chairman of the Central Bank, Accounting Chamber, and Commissioner on Human Rights; declares amnesties; and adopts federal legislation.

The President, elected to a maximum of two four-year terms, appoints the Prime Minister, subject to consent of the Duma. The President also names other members of the government, as well as the chair of the Central Bank, judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, and the Procurator-General. The President has primary responsibility for foreign and defense policy and chairs the Security Council.

The President may dismiss the government without consultation or consent of the Duma. The President can call for a national referendum and can issue decrees that are binding, so long as they are not in conflict with federal law or the constitution. The President can veto legislation, which requires a two-third vote of both houses to be overridden. Under certain circumstances, the President also has the power to dissolve the parliament and force new elections.

The 1993 Constitution establishes federal supremacy over "the subjects" of the Russian Federation. The President has the power to suspend acts of executive officials in the regions and republics. Although Article 72 mentions broad policy areas that are considered "joint federal-regional jurisdiction," it is the President who mediates disputes between federal and regional governments. No powers or policy matters are designated as exclusively the domain of the subjects of the federation. Despite its flaws, the Constitution of the Russian Federation gained widespread acceptance and provided much needed stability as the country endured wrenching political, economic, and social changes in the decade 19942003.

See also: federal assembly; referendum of december 1993


Ahdieh, Robert. (1997). Russia's Constitutional Revolution. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Sharlet, Robert. (1999). "Constitutional Implementation and State-Building: Progress and Problems of Law Reform in Russia." In State-Building in Russia: The Yeltsin Legacy and the Challenge of the Future, ed. Gordon B. Smith. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Smith, Gordon B. (1996). Reforming the Russian Legal System. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gordon B. Smith

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Constitution of 1993

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