Россия 2020 – Сценарии развития страны. Проект Московского Центра Карнеги

 

Political Institutions

Introduction Day Trade The World

There are two main approaches to explaining Russia’s stunted democratic development. The first focuses on social and cultural factors ‘from below’: the weakness of an independent civil society, blurred class identities, a cultural resistance to party affiliation, and weak civic subjectivity. The second prioritises institutional design ‘from above’, notably the ‘superpresidential’ system towering above the government, parliament and the judicial system while reproducing a ‘monocentric’ system to which all socio-political life is subordinated [Makarenko, 2007, pp. 43-57]. These are exogenous factors, and there is also the endogenous approach, focusing on the behaviour of parties, political leaders and the elites in general. One of the best examples of this is the work by Riggs and Schraeder [2004, pp. 265-93], who argue that the sudden fall of the Soviet system in 1989-91 disrupted the evolutionary emergence of a stable party system by cutting its links to society, and thus the party system was reconstituted from above by elites, a pattern that was reinforced by subsequent elections. Thus the political system was largely the outcome of elite interactions and the structured autonomous political representation of popular preferences would remain stunted until parties were able to re-establish genuine reciprocal links with society. In a later study of the 2003-04 electoral cycle, they concluded that the elite-driven party system had only intensified and accelerated the ‘Mexicanisation’ of Russian politics, the establishment of a one-party dominant political system [Riggs and Schraeder [2005, pp. 141-51]. Clearly, any convincing study of the Russian political system must combine endogenous with exogenous factors. In the 2000s, however, as the regime took an increasingly active managerial approach to party development, exogenous factors became decisive. Institutions such as parties were unable to become system-forming but remained a subordinate feature of a dominant-power system.

Too often, however, the complexity of social and political relations is reduced to a simplified model of regime dominance. I argue elsewhere that a dual state has emerged in which the normative/legal system based on constitutional order is challenged by shadowy arbitrary arrangements, which I call the ‘administrative regime’, populated by various conflicting factions (Sakwa 2010a & b). The tension between the two is the defining characteristic of contemporary Russian politics. No society is without such features, but in Russia dualism has assumed systemic forms. As the succession struggles in 1999-2000 and again in 2007-08 demonstrated, neither of the two orders predominated over the other. The interaction between the constitutional state and the administrative regime is the critical process in which institutions are forged and politics is shaped. As long as each retains a distinctive identity, then Russian political evolution remains open-ended. The tension between the two pillars is the matrix through which the Russian political landscape can be understood.

Explanations

In any political system there is a tension between the intrinsic features of a political institution and the way that it operates in interaction with exogenous political practices, culturally patterned modes of behaviour, and policy framework. For example, in a period of emergency or crisis different practices will prevail than in a ‘desecuritised’ and peaceful environment. Since Russia since its inception as an independent nation state has faced almost permanent crisis, it is difficult to assess the relationship between cause and effect: has flawed institutional design contributed to stunted democratic development; or have exogenous factors, notably the crisis conditions faced by the leadership, the political aggrandisement of self-seeking elites, or simply the personality flaws of the individuals who came to head the Russian state.

Historical origins and practices of constitutional conservatism

A remarkable feature of Russian institutional development since 1993 has been the stability of the black letter constitution, that is, the formal structures outlined in the December 1993 constitution. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier period. Mikhail Gorbachev inaugurated a period of rapid constitutional change in 1988, and this accelerated in 1991 and 1993 when the Russian parliament found itself locked in conflict with a presidency under Boris Yeltsin that it had itself created.  Parliament sat as a permanent constitutional convention, and institutions themselves became the central actors in the struggle as parliament lined up against the presidency. Earlier the institutions of the Soviet state had come into conflict with the Russian ones, and by late 1991 Russia effectively took over the core institutions of the Soviet Union. The subsequent, and understandable, attempt to constrain institutional conflict had the perverse effect of deinstitutionising politics in general, giving rise to a rich variety of para-constitutional innovations.

The experience of the period of ‘phoney democracy’ between 1991 and 1993, when social movements and aggregated political constituencies were marginalised by the struggle between institutions, shifted Russia’s elites towards a position of constitutional conservatism. The 1993 constitution is hard but not impossible to amend, but even with a constitutional majority the Putin administration did not make any amendments, adopting a strict line of constitutional stability. However, instead of politics taking the form of normal infraconstitutional routine, it had recourse to para-constitutional strategies. In other words, politics was played out in a parallel terrain as well in the constitutional sphere, an aspect of the dualism in Russian politics mentioned above.

In the period of phoney democracy both government and to an even greater extent opposition policies were constitutionalised by the adoption of the relevant amendments, but after 1993 this aspect of Russian politics, also characteristic of the final two years of the Soviet system from 1989, came to an abrupt end. Instead, changes in politics took para-constitutional forms, such as in the creation of the seven (now eight) federal districts or the Public Chamber. These institutions exist without formal constitutional sanction, yet they do not repudiate the existing constitutional order.

This is in sharp contract, for example, with Brazil, which like Russia also has a long and detailed constitution enumerating various social and economic provisions. In the twenty years following its adoption in 1988, the Brazilian constitution was amended 62 times, typically modifying an aspect of public policy rather than a fundamental principle.[1] This was Brazil’s eighth constitution since gaining independence in 1822, so the country is characterised by instability both within and between constitutions. Putin was quite explicit in his attempt to create a platform for constitutional stability in Russia, and rejected all plans for constitutional change. He thus favoured Buchanan and Tullock’s restrictive view of the need to protect constitutions from fleeting majorities,[2] as opposed to Waldron’s more flexible position.[3]

Structural problems of Russia’s institutional order

For Robert Elgie the key feature of semi-presidentialism is the way that a government is formed or a prime minister is appointed, irrespective of the power of the president.[4] By contrast, Matthew Shugart and John Carey focus precisely on the relative strength of the president, prime minister and parliament. Russia’s semi-presidential constitution approximates the ‘presidential-parliamentary’ type of mixed system that Shugart and Carey consider the most unstable.[5] They distinguish between semi-presidential systems that oscillate between presidential and parliamentary predominance. They call the French Fifth Republic ‘premier-presidential’, while systems that give the president greater powers to form and dismiss governments independently of parliament are dubbed ‘presidential-parliamentary’.[6] The former are considered more likely to create a stable democratic system since there is greater accountability to parliament, whereas in a presidential-parliamentary system the government is torn between accountability to both the president and parliament.

While the French system’s ability to flip between a presidential and parliamentary mode creates a ‘safety valve’ which ensures that political tensions between president and parliament do not degenerate into constitutional conflict,[7] Russia’s ‘presidential-parliamentary’ system engendered endemic conflicts under Yeltsin, and under Putin it seemed that the only way to resolve the problem of divided government was to ensure a compliant legislature. Now under Medvedev the problem was resolved by appointing a strong prime minister at the head of a huge parliamentary majority, and for that prime minister to become the head of the dominant party. Russia executed a ‘half-flip’; not quite a turn to a premier-presidential republic but the balance shifted from a wholly presidential towards a more presidential-parliamentary system.[8] Although the presidency was stripped off none of its formal powers, informal evolution towards greater party-parliamentary authority provided an institutional base for the tandem.

The constitution does however contain structural problems. Colton and Skatch note that ‘Russian semi-presidentialism was of the most conflict-ridden sub-type – divided minority government’.[9] Krasnov argues that the constitution itself acts as the source of pathological behaviour, above all in promoting the excessive presidentialisation of politics.[10] As he notes in a later co-authored work, there is even a question if the presidency is a branch of power or whether it stands entirely outside of the separation of powers. A strict reading of the constitution suggests that the presidency does not even head the executive but stands above and beyond the governmental system.[11] The weak or indeed absent separation of powers was accompanied by the strong concentration of power in the administrative system. This means that parliament does not act as the focus of consensual politics, and instead veered from sullen resistance in the 1990s to passive obeisance in the 2000s. A great mass of reformist legislation was passed even in the 1990s, but in institutional terms the Duma is at the margins both of decision-making and of national political identity.[12]

The practice of prerogative powers by the regime was in part provoked by flaws in institutional design, reinforced by perceived political imperatives in what was seen to be a hostile geopolitical environment and an under-developed political society. The ‘stateness’ question in new democracies is fundamental, and in Russia took three forms: the questioning of the basic legitimacy of the new state by those opposed to the forced break-up of the Soviet Union; the weakness of the managerial capacity of the new state, above all in relations with the regions and big business; and the overt challenge posed by various secessionist movements, which in Chechnya took the form of an armed insurrection. The classic stateness problem, moreover, is accompanied by the ‘great power’ problem: Russia’s claim to be a major actor on the world stage and in its region. The constitution certainly endows the presidency with extensive powers, but these are embedded in a system that forced the executive to operate through complex instruments. Putin’s mastery of factional politics was a political response to a constitutional dilemma; but it was also determined by the political challenges facing the country.

The duality of the system was reflected in what Montesquieu recognised as the ‘distribution des pouvoirs (powers)’ rather than the ‘séparation des pouvoirs’. Putin did not set out to undermine the constitutional separation of powers, but in the political sphere he systematically undermined divided government, defined by Elgie, inter alia, as the ‘absence of simultaneous same-party majorities in the executive and legislative branches of government’.[13] Putin’s technocratic managerialism blurred functional differentiation between the various branches of government, but did not repudiate the distinct logics on which executive, legislative and judicial authority was based. Key constitutional principles are not sustained by political practices; but the constitution still constrains behaviour and acts as a normative boundary-setter for the system as a whole (although when it comes to executive powers the borders, admittedly, are set rather wide, but in formal terms remain within accepted democratic limits). Putin’s successor was faced not only by economic modernisation tasks, but also by the objective requirement to modernise the political system by increasing the effectiveness of existing institutions, and one of the key ways to do this was by reducing the informal powers of the factions and allowing more autonomy to public politics. In other words, the fundamental challenge was to ensure that political practices were brought into greater conformity with constitutional norms, above all by limiting the prerogative powers of the regime, and thus reducing the duality of the system.

Political institutions and democratic outcomes

A fundamental feature of our model of the dual state is the potential for existing institutions and processes to become autonomous in their own right. Just as the Soviet system nurtured institutions, notably union republics based on a titular nationality, which emerged as independent actors when the regime, seized by a democratizing impulse, weakened in the late 1980s, so today there remains a powerful latent potential in the formal institutions of post-communist Russian democracy.[14] Parties, parliament, the judiciary and the whole juridico-constitutional system established in the early 1990s have potential to evolve within the existing system. The federal system under Putin lost its autonomous character, but federal institutions have been preserved and could come to life in different circumstances. The tension between constitutional federalism and unitary political practices, as in the Soviet system, provokes a permanent contradiction. In this sphere and in others there is a conflict between the latent and the actual.

References

  1. Buchanan, J. M. and G. Tullock, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, 1999 [1962]).
  2. Chaisty, Paul, Legislative Politics and Economic Power in Russia (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2006).
  3. Chaisty, Paul and Petra Schleiter, ‘Productive but Not Valued: The Russia State Duma, 1994-2001’, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 54, No. 5, 2002, pp. 701-24.
  4. Couto, Cláudio G. and Rogério B. Arantes, ‘Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil’, World Political Science Review (The Berkeley Electronic Press), Vol. 4, Issue 2, Article 3, 2008, pp. 1-33.
  5. Elgie, Robert (ed.), Semi-presidentialism in Europe (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999).
  6. Elgie, Robert, ‘What is Divided Government’, in Robert Elgie (ed.), Divided Government in Comparative Perspective (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 1-20.
  7. Elgie, Robert, ‘A Fresh Look at Semipresidentialism: Variations on a Theme’, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3, July 2005, pp. 98-112.
  8. Makarenko, Boris, ‘”Nanopartiinaya” sistema’, Pro et Contra, Vol. 11, Nos 4-5, July-October 2007, pp. 43-57.
  9. Riggs, Jonathan W. and Peter J. Schraeder, ‘Russia’s Political Party System as an Impediment to Democratization’, Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 2004, pp. 265-93.
  10. Riggs, Jonathan W. and Peter J. Schraeder, ‘Russia’s Political Party System as a (Continued) Impediment to Democratization: The 2003 Duma and 2004 Presidential Elections in Perspective’, Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 141-51.
  11. Sakwa, Richard, The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism, and the Medvedev Succession (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  12. Sakwa, Richard, ‘The Dual State in Russia’, Post-Soviet Affairs, forthcoming 2010.
  13. Shugart, Matthew Soberg and John M. Carey, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  14. Suleiman, Ezra N., ‘Presidential and Political Stability in France’, in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela (eds), The Failure of Presidential Democracy: Comparative Perspectives (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 137-62.
  15. Waldron, Jeremy, Law and Disagreement (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1999).

[1] Cláudio G. Couto and Rogério B. Arantes, ‘Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil’, World Political Science Review, Vol. 4, Issue 2, Article 3, 2008, p. 9.

[2] J. M. Buchanan and G. Tullock, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, 1999 [1962]).

[3] Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1999).

[4] Robert Elgie (ed.), Semi-presidentialism in Europe (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999). For later reflections, however, see Robert Elgie, ‘A Fresh Look at Semipresidentialism: Variations on a Theme’, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3, July 2005, pp. 98-112.

[5] Matthew Soberg Shugart and John M. Carey, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[6] Ibid., pp. 23-27.

[7] Ezra N. Suleiman, ‘Presidential and Political Stability in France’, in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela (eds), The Failure of Presidential Democracy: Comparative Perspectives (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 137-62.

[8] Cf. Ivan Rodin and Aleksandra Samarina, ‘Gryzlovu nashli zamenu’, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 28 March 2008, p. 3.

[9] Timothy J. Colton and Cindy Skatch, ‘The Russian Predicament’, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 3, July 2005, p. 117.

[10] Mikhail Krasnov, ‘Konstitutsiya v nashei zhizni’, Pro et Contra, Vol. 11, Nos 4-5, July-October 2007, pp. 30-42, in particular p. 32.

[11] M. A. Krasnov and I. G. Shablinskii, Rossiiskaya sistema vlasti: Treugol’nik s odnom uglom (Moscow, Institut Prava i Publichnoi Politiki, 2008), p. 30.

[12] Paul Chaisty and Petra Schleiter, ‘Productive but Not Valued: The Russia State Duma, 1994-2001’, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 54, No. 5, 2002, pp. 701-24. See also Paul Chaisty, Legislative Politics and Economic Power in Russia (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2006).

[13] Robert Elgie, ‘What is Divided Government?’, in Robert Elgie (ed.), Divided Government in Comparative Perspective (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 2.

[14] Cf. Valerie Bunce, Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Destruction of Socialism and the State (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999).

1 Odpowiedźi

  1. avatar Konstantin Eggert, %a %b %e%q, %Y:

    Dear Mr Sakwa,

    Contradiction between the legal form and practical substance of politics as practiced by the ruling elite in Russia is indeed one of the main reasons for the permanent state of crisis that Russia lives through. It is tempting to look at it as one of the many facets of transition from an empire to a nation state (as Geoffrey Hosking thinks). pixel gun 3d cheats
    I would slightly disagree with you saying that the 1993 basic law remains a kind of sacred cow. Although it wasn’t changed in many basic aspects, at least two (and in fact more) changes definitely transformed the spirit, if not the letter of the Constitution. One is lengthening the presidential term to six years, and another appointment, rather than election of regional governors. The former enshrined the supremacy of the super-presidential executive, the latter had a very serious impact on the substance and understanding of federalism. Finally will the conflict between the unitary and federal impulses come to a head during the next 10 years, in your view?
    Konstantin von Eggert

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