With its Light and Dark Sides; The Unique Semi-Presidential System of the Russian Federation

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation came into being as an independent state in 1991 and it is described as a “democratic, federal, rule-based republic” in its constitution which is adopted in 1993, includes many universal principles such as human rights and freedoms, free elections, political and ideological pluralism and judicial independence. According to the Constitution of Russia, the President of Russia is head of the state, and of a multi-party system with executive power exercised by the government, headed by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the parliament’s approval (Fish 1997). Legislative power is vested in the two houses of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, while the President and the government issue numerous legally binding by-laws. However, even some academics, who accept that Russia has a constitutional semi-presidential model, describe the system as “presidential” and even “super presidential” due to the strong and central position of the president. In this sense, throughout the essay, the current presidential system of the Russian Federation is examined in the light of the SWOT analysis. In this sense, while strengths of the system can be contextualized as the efficient government and president who has a great popularity among the public and the political stability, weaknesses can be classified as the conflicting of authority between the president and the government and restricting the right to freedom of speech and demand the independent information. In addition, while opportunities can be given as high economic growth and increasing the prestige of the Russian Federal state in international arena, threats can be labelled as state’s overdependency to the president and very low democracy.

Firstly, political stability, the efficient government and the president are characterized as the strengths of the current semi-presidential or ‘super presidential’ system of the Federal Russian state which means that while the president and his administration (the ‘apparat’) control political decision-making, the parliament and courts are just nominally independent (UNDP 2016). In this perspective, the current president Vladimir Putin has been a great popularity among the public as he came after the term of previous president Boris Yeltsin in which period according to the Russian people, a chaos situation occurred due to various reasons such as increasing mafia, deterioration in income distribution and moral dissolution. Hence, while Putin’s management understanding and the state-made regulations is appreciated, his administration is seen as a guarantee of “security and stability” by the public. So, Therefore, it can be observed that the federal center was strengthened again during the Putin period. Already, Putin’s policies against Federation’s danger of division is enough to draw attention. It is known that Putin decreased the number of administrative units for this purpose from 89 to 85 currently. In addition, after the bloody terrorist act that took place in Beslan at the beginning of September 2004, President Putin announced his decision to make serious changes in the country’s election and administration system. Accordingly, the administrators of all units that make up the Russian Federation, from autonomous republics to autonomous regions and cities, have begun to be determined by the appointment of the federal center.

Secondly, conflicting of authority between the president and the government and restricting the right to freedom of speech and demand the independent information can be given as weaknesses of the semi presidential system of Russian Federation. However, it is essential to note the differences of Russia’s ‘super competent semi-presidential regime’ from the presidential system that first of all executive is not single-headed but two-headed and the president is the authorized wing of the executive (Vlademir Gel’man 2005). Although the executive power is divided with the government, the approval of the legislature via vote of confidence is required during the government’s beginning of the term and duty, and the government is responsible mainly to the president and partly to the legislative body, albeit limited. In this sense, as it is the case in parliamentary regimes, in the semi-presidential regime, the prime minister and the government are responsible to the parliament, and the government can continue its duty only if he/she receives the parliament’s vote of confidence. However, the president who is directly elected in the semi-presidential regime can take decisions independently from the government and exercise important powers. The semi-presidential system in which the president has superior powers from the government is implemented in Russia. The most important disadvantage in the semi-presidential regime can be said as while the president responsible for voters and the prime minister responsible for parliament are confronted within the executive. So, within this system authorities of the president and the government conflict with each other. In the parliamentary system, only one of the two wings of the executive in the has the political nature. However, the elected head of state in the semi-presidential system turns into a political character. Thus, both wings of the executive were designed as bodies using political preferences. In addition, a high degree of cronyism and nepotism which were inherited from the Soviet Union yet prevalent even if Putin had tried to establish technocracy among the top government officials has increased with the ongoing strict control of media and state organs. Concordantly, Putin took the advantage of Chechnya crisis as using a leverage against media which was under the control of oligarchs. During the operations of Chechnya, he restricted the media and the freedom of speech by establishing some regulations (Sakwa, Russian Politics and Society 2008, 85). Furthermore, his second policy counter to the media was “distancing” which means separating media cartels from the state and it was exercised against other oligarchs as distancing them from reaching the information of politics, then totally dissolving from the politics. Eventually, Putin dominated the media in order to consolidate his rule. Also among the most well-known examples of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian management approach which is criticized harshly by the western world are the fact that he has been taken over the control of dissident broadcasts and passed Canal 1 and NTV shares to the state, and closed TV 6 by digesting large capital groups due to he realized the influence and power of the media on the public. As a result, Putin finished independent television and media which might be a danger to his authority.

Thirdly, high economic growth and increasing the prestige of the Russian Federal state within the international arena can be ranked among the opportunities of the ‘super presidential’ regime of Russian Federal state. In this regard, after the Yeltsin Era, the semi-presidential regime under Putin administration has been reached high developments in the economy, increase in prosperity and Russia’s international prestige and an impact of which was clearly felt in the country. Accordingly, while Russia re-gained its former place among the great powers, the fight against the danger of division of the federation has given priority and many positive developments have had an impact on the state. For instance, under the Putin administration, oil and gas revenues of the federal budget rose spectacularly since early 2000s and peaked at over 50% in 2012-2014 (Aris and Tkachev 2019). Also, Putin was liable for the first systematic attempt to reform Russia’s economy that in 2000 he launched the so-called Gref plan which means ‘Program for the Socio-Economic Development of the Russian Federation’ for the period between 2000 and 2010, nevertheless it ended by the 2008 crisis. Thereafter, Long-Term Socio-Economic Development of the Russian Federation until 2020 was envisioned, but because of the global crisis it was never come to the life as implementations (Aris and Tkachev 2019). Even if, the attempts could not be successful in implementation, still they have an essential role in shaping the way of the policies.

Lastly, state’s over dependency to the president and very low democracy can be asserted as the great threats of the Russian Federation’s semi-presidential system. In this sense, even if the trappings of democratic government remain in place the authority of the president in fact have not been counterbalanced by the parliament, courts, and press, with a civil society, democratic elections and actually, president’s power have not been open to a real contest of the public, and not enforced accountability. So, the slightest interruption in the president’s duty creates a spontaneous power vacuum. Moreover, according to Professor M. Steven Fish who is a comparative political scientist, as the concept of ‘super presidential’ system which evokes the image of stability and solidity can be regarded as an extraordinary form of regime as well as the system causes institutions to be in an unsubstantial and fragile position due to the fact of excessive dependence on the president that seen in practice (Fish 1997, 327). In addition, super-presidential regime of Russia might pose danger to democracy in the sense the coalitions governments which are essential to make a compromise cannot be formed within the system and also directly handicap to develop political parties which are indispensable element of democratic life as making them weak and ineffective within the lower wing of parliament called as Duma. Followingly, in 2005, with the election law amendments in Russia, the opposition was hit by a lethal blow in which the election threshold for parties in the Duma and regional parliamentary elections was increased from 5% to 7%, the parties were banned from election coalitions, the conditions of establishment of political parties were aggravated and the duties of the observers of the political parties in the elections were minimized (Gel’man 2005, 241). In this regard, through strict control on political parties and over-dependency to the president inside of the system, sense of democracy was corrupted and decreased.

In conclusion, current semi-presidential system of Russia is also called as presidential or ‘super presidential’ due to the powerful and central position of the president Vladimir Putin within the state structure. In this sense, through the light of SWOT analysis, while strengths of the system have been emphasized as the efficient government and president who have a great popularity among the public and the political stability, weaknesses have been indicated as the conflicting of authority between the president and the government, restricting the right to freedom of speech and demand the independent information. In addition, meanwhile opportunities have been stated as high economic growth and increasing the prestige of the Russian Federal state in international arena, threats have been labeled as state’s overdependency to the president and very low democracy. So, what cannot be underestimated that there are always dark and light sides of any system but the matter is to see the whole as it is and concordantly, in this manner of work, it is tried to enlighten the features of the unique system of the Russian Federation as a whole.

References
Aris, Ben, and Ivan Tkachev. 2019. ” Long Read: 20 Years of Russia’s Economy Under Putin, in Numbers.” Moscow Times. August 19. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/08/19/long-read-russias-economy-under-putin-in-numbers-a66924.
Asia, Europe and Central. 2016. UNDP Central Asia Human Development Report. October. Accessed June 13, 2020. https://www.eurasia.undp.org/content/rbec/en/home/presscenter/events/2016/regional-human-development-report.html.
Fish, Michael Steven. 1997. “The Pitfalls of Russian Superpresidantalizm.” Current History 326-330.
Sakwa, Richard. 2008. Russian Politics and Society. 4th. Routledge. Accessed April 23, 2020.
Vlademir Gel’man. 2005. Political Opposition in Russia: A Dying Species? Vol. 3. 21 vols. Post-Soviet Affairs. Accessed June 13, 2020.

Müleyke Nurefşan İkbal Yılmaz

İstanbul 29 Mayıs Üniversitesinde Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü 4. sınıf öğrencisiyim. Üniversitemin sunduğu imkanlar doğrultusunda, bilinçli olarak Ortadoğu modülünü tercih ettim ve seçmeli alan derslerime ek olarak. bölüm dili olan İngilizcenin yanı sıra Arapça dil eğitimimi sürdürmekteyim. Küresel Siyaset ve özellikle Ortadoğu üzerine makale ve çalışmalarıma devam etmekteyim.

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