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Presidency

PRESIDENCY

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

bibliography

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

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presidency

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.

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presidency

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