THE NEW CHECKS AND BALANCES

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Safeguarding the achievements of the Putin era

The Russian authorities are already taking a number of measures to ensure that the first years of the next president’s term will not involve any drastic turnarounds due to powerful external pressure.


In any country, the most important question is who will be the head of state. For Russia, this is doubly important. What’s at stake here is Russia’s future within its current borders, progress on the national projects and economic reforms, and peace of mind for citizens who are tired of revolutionary upheavals. Not surprisingly, there is more and more talk of a third term for the popular President Vladimir Putin, or some sort of guaratees that Russia’s policy course will remain unchanged after a new president takes office.

The supreme authorities appear to understand this problem. They are already taking a number of measures to ensure that the first years of the next president’s term will not involve any drastic turnarounds due to powerful external pressure. As we can see, external pressure is growing rapidly.

What kind of measures are being taken?

First: from now on, Russia will have a three-year budget. In other words, the budget being written at present will determine policy from 2008 to 2010. And the money in the Stabilization Fund will remain untouched.

Second: In the wake of the recent regional elections, we can predict that no party will hold a constitutional majority in the next Duma. No party will be able to impeach the president or amend the Constitution on its own.

Third: The next president will not have a “technical” government. The Cabinet will be active and effective. So the presidential administration will function as a chancellory only. These days, the situation is often the reverse.

Will the next Cabinet be a parliamentary majority government? Yes, most likely. But it will also be the first coalition government. This can be achieved even without amending the Constitution.

Next question: will the Cabinet be headed by a strong or weak prime minister. If it’s a strong prime minister, it may well be Putin himself – thus implementing the German model of government. If it’s not Putin, it will be a relatively weak prime minister: perhaps one of the current successor candidates, or Sergei Naryshkin, now deputy prime minister and Cabinet chief-of-staff.

The Federation Council will be another counterweight. If two-thirds of the Duma votes to impeach the president, the Federation Council would have to confirm that after receiving evaluations from the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

The Federation Council may be strong, if Putin becomes its speaker – or it may be as weak as it is now.

The last weak link in the future system of checks and balances is the Constitutional Court, which resolves all disputes and conflicts between branches of government. It’s worth noting that Constitutional Court members wasn’t happy about the decision to relocate the Constitutional Court to St. Petersburg (a decision pushed through the Duma by the United Russia faction). The situation was fixed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov: the Federation Council still hasn’t endorsed the Duma’s decision. Constitutional Court judges sighed in relief.

Thus, the system of interaction between branches of government after 2008 probably won’t permit any abrupt changes or upheavals in Russian politics. It is calculated to last three or four years. That will be sufficient time for the new administration to demonstrate its viability.

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