Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Russian Legislative Elections: The rules
Russia uses a modified form of the German system of proportional representation in its elections to choose members of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, the State Duma. Members serve 4 year terms, and may be re-elected without limits.
- Russia's legislature is bicameral: an upper house, The Federation Council, composed of 178 members represents each of the 89 Regions of Russia.
Parties' control over the legislature has increased in recent years. Before election day, party lists of candidates are formed by Party Leaders and submitted to an Electoral Commission which certifies their eligibility if sufficient eligible voters have signed petitions.
- In all elections, 1993-2003, individual candidates not affiliated with any party also could compete on the ballot; they were required to submit voters' petitions equal to 1% of the eligible voters in the district.
- In 2004, President Putin and the Duma enacedt changes in election laws that ended election of non-party members of the Duma. After 2003, all candidates elected came from among those on party lists.
How voters' votes create representation:
In elections to the Duma 1993-2003, on election day, voters voted twice: once for a Party, and once for an individual representative for their geographical district who might be a party candidate or a non-party candidate. In elections after 2003, voters still vote on two ballots, once to choose a party and once to choose an individual representative. However, all individual representative candidates are required to be members of a national party.
- 1/2 of seats, or 225, are allocated to individual winners of these district races.
- The other 225 seats are distributed by proportional representation to only those parties earning more than 7% of the national vote. This insures seats in the Duma for party leaders.
- This is a higher threshold for inclusion in the national parliament than the 5% required in German elections. The effect of the threshold has been to make it more difficult for small parties to win any seats.
The Effect of the Russian Legislative Election system: historic illustrations.
General principles: Like the effect of proportional representation (PR) in other countries, PR in Russian Duma elections has coincided with the proliferation of small parties, and has resulted in unstable legislative coalitions. While the number of parties has declined slightly, 1993-99, parties still are very numerous; the hierarchy of parties is very volatile; and large numbers of Duma members have no party ties whatsoever. Illustrations:
1993: In the 1993 Duma elections, more than 140 parties filed to be on the ballot; 35 of these were found to have had sufficient signatures to participate; and before the election parties made associations with one another that reduced the number of voters' choices to 13. Eight of these won more than 5%, 4 more won at least one candidate seat. But 141 other Duma members won seats as Independent candidates not affiliated with any party. Follow this link to see a graphic illustrating the 1993 results.
The largest party in 1993 was the Russia's Choice, a pro-Yeltsin group. It no longer existed in 1995 or 1999 elections.
The second largest party in 1993 (57 seats) was the Liberal Democratic Party, V. Zhirinovsky's neo-fascist vehicle. Its support then declined. In 1995, it won 51 seats, and in 1999, 18 seats.
1995: In the 1995 Duma elections, 43 parties were on ballot. 13 won seats in the Duma, either by getting 5%+, or by winning a directly elected seat. Follow this link to see a graphic illustrating the 1995 results.
The largest party was the Communist Party of the Russian Federation: 34.9% of votes, 157 seats. Its support also declined; in 1999, it won 24% of votes and 123 seats. It remained the largest party in the Duma until 2003, when it polled only 12.6 percent and was passed by Pres. Putin's party (One Russia) that polled 37 percent.
Analysis: Lack of stability in the signposts sent by the Party System to society contributed to instability of government. The unstable party system coincided with a decline in influence of the legislature within the national government, and with the virtual elimination from the Duma of members identified with the robust reforms of the early Yeltsin years.
This trend continued. For example, the second largest 1995 party, Our Home Is Russia (12% of votes, 55 seats), by 1999 fell to one percent of votes, and 9 seats. "Our Home..." failed to pass the five percent barrier in any subsequent election.
1999: In the December 1999 Duma elections, 29 parties were on the ballot, and 13 won seats in the Duma. Six won seats by exceeding the 5% hurdle, 8 others won at least one individual race and thus won representation under the rules then in effect.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) long used its larger organization to increase the size of its legislative delegation by winning both seats awarded by Proportional Representation and by winning seats in individual localities by fielding candidates capable of finishing first among all rivals in that locality. Thus, though they won only 24% of votes in 1999, they emerged with the largest number of seats, 123.
Vladimir Putin's supporters had formed a Unity Party at that time, and it finished second nationwide to the Communists. Unity was much better organized in the capital than in the countryside. Unity won 23% of votes, but only 72 seats.
These results show the better local organization across the country of the CPRF: Communists win both seats proportionate to their overall vote and many (i.e., 56) individual races. Unity won only 8 such individual constituency races.
The instability of the Party System continued in 1999: three of the largest six parties in 1999 were not on the 1995 ballot.
2003: Early in his term (i.e., 2000 onward) President Putin tired of the difficulty in cobbling together legislative support that he had inherited from Pres. Yeltsin's decision not to form a political party. Putin decided to put new energy into forming a party to stand in legislative elections as the party that would support his government: One Russia. Putin openly associated with the party and campaigned for it. In the election of December 7, 2003, his new One Russia party finished first with 37.5 percent of the vote; the Communists lost nearly half of their 1999 vote (falling from 24 percent in 1999 to 12.6 percent in 2003); and the fascist Liberal Democrats (Zhirinovsky's party) finished third, trailing with 11.45 percent. Follow this link to see a graphic illustration of the 2003 results.
In 2005, Putin and the Duma passed legislation eliminating from the Duma non-party members by barring candidates not affiliated with national parties from the ballot in subsequent legislative elections.
Partisan Polarization had an impact on Politics in the Russian Duma:
No Party in any Duma controlled a majority of the legislative seats until Putin's party, United Russia, won a majority (64% of the popular vote) in 2007. United Russia was formed in 2001
Prior to United Russia's emergence, all legislation had tobe supported by more than one party. From 2003 to 2007, however, Pres. Putin's support in the Duma was relatively reliable, as his party (then called "One Russia") held nearly forty percent of the seats. In that era, various pieces of legislation passed with support given by the Communists, or by Liberal Democrats, or by both.
Relationship to Executive Power:
Traditionally, in Russia, executive power is greater than legislative power. Aspects of the contemporary Russian Constitution, and the precedents established under its first president (i.e., Boris Yeltsin), have reinforced this tradition:
The role of Prime Minister. The President selects the PM from Duma members, and may fire the Prime Minister.
The President is not required to choose a party leader, or a member of the largest party, as Prime Minister. This differs from the arrangement in other democracies, notably in differs from Britain and Germany; follow this link for illustration. Yeltsin himself never formed firm ties with any political party, choosing to portray the presidency as "above partisan politics."
While some of Yeltsin's Prime Ministers were experienced politicians (e.g. Viktor Chernomyrdin; Yevgeny Primakov), others were relative political novices (e.g. Sergei Kiriyenko and Stefan Stepashin)
The Duma confirms or rejects the nominee for PM. If the Duma refuses the Presidential nominee, the President can resubmit that person's name, or submit a new nominee. Pres. Yeltsin always resubmitted the original nominee. If the Duma on three separate nomination votes rejects the Presidential nominee, new Duma elections must be held.
In 1995-99, 5 PMs served. None resigned: all were fired by Pres. Yeltsin.
When legislative action on Presidential or Prime Ministerial proposals is not given, Presidents may rule through decree.
During the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev (2008-12), ex-President Vladimir Putin served as Prime Minister. Their relationship was cordial: Medvedev never attempted to dismiss, or even to guide, the powerful Putin. This temporarily reversed the political status of the office of Prime Minister, and centralized authority there with the support of about 70% of the Duma. In 2012, Putin again will return to the Presidency, and the role of Prime Minister is likely to again be subordinated to the preferences of the President.
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