The presidency is the most powerful formal political institution in post-communist Russia. Except for the ceremonial title given to the head of the USSR Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union did not have a presidency until its waning years, although the adoption of one was discussed under Josef Stalin and again under Nikita Khrushchev. New proposals resurfaced in the late 1980s, prompting intense debate among Communist Party elites about the efficacy of introducing an institution that could challenge the party's authority. Despite concerns about the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual, the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People's Deputies approved the Soviet presidency in 1990. The first presidential election was to be held by the legislature, with sub-sequent popular elections. Mikhail Gorbachev became president in March 1990, receiving 71 percent of the votes in the Congress of People's Deputies.
The union republics began electing presidents before the dissolution of the USSR. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was chosen as Russia's first president in an election that pitted him against five competitors. In his first term, following the breakup of the USSR, Yeltsin faced a recalcitrant parliament that opposed many of his initiatives. The conflict between the executive and legislative branches culminated in Yeltsin's issuing a decree that dissolved parliament on September 21, 1993. Parliament rejected the decree and declared Vice President Alexander Rutskoi to be acting president. The forces opposing Yeltsin assembled armed supporters, occupied the Russian White House, and attempted to take control of the main television network. Pro-Yeltsin forces attacked the White House and crushed the parliamentary rebellion in early October 1993.
The constitutional crisis led to the formal strengthening of the presidency, codified in the 1993 constitution. Rather than a pure presidential system, the Russian Federation adopted a semi-presidential system in which the president is the popularly elected head of state, and the prime minister, nominated by the president, is the head of government. The president is elected to a four-year term using a majority-runoff system that requires a majority vote to win in the first round of competition. If no candidate gains a majority, a runoff is held between the top two candidates from the first round. The president wields substantial formal powers and thus has more authority than the leaders in parliamentary and many other semipresidential systems. Among other things, the president can veto laws, make decrees, initiate legislation, call for referenda, and suspend local laws that contravene the constitution. The president is limited to two consecutive terms in office.
Yeltsin was reelected president in July 1996, after defeating the candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, in the second round of competition. Yeltsin resigned from the presidency on December 31, 1999. Vladimir Putin served briefly as acting president and then was elected in March 2000. Putin reasserted presidential authority, strengthening central control over the regions, challenging powerful business interests, and extending control over the press.
See also: constitution of 1993; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; putin, vladimir vladimirovich; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich
Huskey, Eugene. (1999). Presidential Power in Russia. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Nichols, Thomas M. (2001). The Russian Presidency. New York: St. Martin's.
Erik S. Herron
Articles 12 to 14 of Eamon de Valera's constitution of 1937 detail the powers of the office of president and stipulate that the president be directly elected for a seven-year term in a national vote, or, if the political parties so choose, nomination procedures can be used to agree on a candidate and avoid a vote. Although the articles allow for outgoing presidents to nominate themselves for a second term, other potential candidates need to be proposed either by twenty members of the Oireachtas (TDs or senators), or the councils of four counties or county boroughs. Given that these local authorities are composed on party lines, this route was rarely feasible and was not used until 1997.
On five occasions—1938, 1952, 1974, 1976, and 1983—only one candidate was nominated, while there have been six contested elections in 1945, 1959, 1966, 1973, 1990, and 1997. Although the constitution prevents the president from participating in party politics or the day-to-day running of the government, there are six discretionary powers for use in specific circumstances; three give the president an adjudicatory role in disputes between Dáil and Senate (which have never arisen), and a fourth gives the president power to convene a meeting of either or both of the houses of the Oireachtas.
The president can also refer a bill passed by the Oireachtas to the Supreme Court to judge its constitutionality, before which the president must consult but is not bound by the Council of State, an advisory body containing past and present senior politicians and seven people appointed by the president. In 1976 President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh referred the Emergency Powers Bill on this basis and resigned after vicious criticism by the minister for defense.
The sixth power relates to the dissolution of the Dáil, and does not require consultation, although Article 13.2.2 states most ambiguously that the president "may in his absolute discretion refuse to dissolve Dáil Éireann on the advice of a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann." No president has ever exercised this power, though pressure in 1981 was brought to bear on Patrick Hillery to do so.
The office of president has been likened to that of a relatively powerless constitutional monarch and in the earlier years was frequently used as a retirement post for distinguished male senior politicians, most notably de Valera, who was aged 76 when elected president. In 1990 Mary Robinson, aged 46, and a candidate nominated by the Labour Party, shattered this convention following an electrifying campaign, making Ireland only the second country in Europe after Iceland to have a woman as elected head of state. Hoping to expand the role of the office, she certainly gave it an increased profile and championed the plight of minorities and the status of women in Irish society, though ultimately she had to accept the limitations of the office and abstain from interfering in matters that were the prerogative of the government.
SEE ALSO Constitution; de Valera, Eamon; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922; Robinson, Mary
Gallagher, Michael, and John Coakley, eds. Politics in the Republic of Ireland. 1992.
Finlay, Fergus. Mary Robinson: A President with a Purpose. 1991.
pres·i·den·cy / ˈprez(ə)dənsē; ˈprezəˌdensē/ • n. (pl. -cies) the office of president: the presidency of the U.S. ∎ the period of this: the liberal climate that existed during Carter's presidency. ∎ Christian Church the role of the priest or minister who conducts a Eucharist. ∎ (also First Presidency) (in the Mormon church) a council of three officers forming the highest administrative body.