Category Archives: Russia


Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia

Sophia Moestrup and I have edited a new volume called Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.


The book contains two chapters by Sophia and I. In the Introductory chapter we describe constitutional variation across the region and outline the basic research questions of the book: do institutions matter in post-Soviet countries? If so, do they matter for democratic performance? Whatever the answer, has the organization of the executive and executive-legislative relations had an impact on political life? In the Concluding chapter, ‘Weaker Presidents, Better Semi-Presidentialism’, we present a single policy recommendation: countries should adopt a constitution with a relatively weak presidency. All else equal, weak presidential institutions are likely to be more beneficial than super-presidencies. We argue that these benefits derive both from the intrinsic institutional incentives associated with such a system as well as the creation of environment in which the choice of a weak presidency is seen as being an attractive constitutional choice.

The book also contains a scene-setting chapter by Alex Baturo. This chapter provides an overview of similarities and differences between the political regimes that emerged in post-Soviet Eurasia, showing how “patronal” first secretaries under the Soviet Union became “patronal” presidents of their own nation-states after independence.

There are also four country case study chapters on semi-presidentiaism in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, as a well as a fifth case study of presidential Kazakhstan. These chapters look at the reasons for institutional choice in these countries, including Kazakhstan’s brief flirtation with semi-presidentialism in the early 1990s, as well as an assessment of the constitutional powers of the presidents in all of these countries, and an analysis of the reality of vertical power and political pluralism (or its absence) in practice.

More details can be found at the Palgrave website. Indeed, there are more details still, including chapter abstracts, from the Springer website.

Russia – Why does the president still have to veto legislation?

On 12 December President Putin vetoed the Law On Amendments to the Federal Law On Skolkovo Innovation Centre. The President’s website says that the law was passed by the Duma on 23 November and approved by the Federation Council on 28 November only to be vetoed a couple of weeks later.

The website outlines some of the technical reasons why President Putin vetoed the bill, but the question arises as to why he had to do so in the first place. After all, United Russia has a huge and disciplined majority in the Duma.

According to figures I have kindly been sent by a Russian academic, this was the only time that Putin vetoed a bill in 2012. The figures indicate one veto in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2010, two vetoes in 2006, three vetoes in 2005, but none in either 2007 or 2011.

Now, there were a lot more vetoes in the 1996-1999 session than in 2000-2003 session and more in the 2000-2003 session than since. That makes sense. But, why is the president still having to veto laws now?

There is some background to the 2012 veto here. One way of interpreting the comments is to say that President Putin was signalling his disagreement with PM Medvedev, or, rather, the actions of Medvedev when he was president previously. This may be so, but it still does not explain why the legislature voted for the bill in November if the president’s authority over United Russia is so great.

So, for me anyway, the question as to why the Russian president still occasionally feels the need to veto legislation is still open.

Russia – Direct election of governors

The Russian parliament has approved the re-introduction of the direct election of regional governors. They were directly elected until 2004, after which time they were appointed by Moscow.

It is not entirely clear to me how the electoral process will work. However, there is some detail in the People’s Daily. It states: “To be registered as a candidate, one must receive support of 5-10 percent of municipal lawmakers in at least three-fourths of municipalities in a region, which Russian political analysts called the “municipal filters” or “municipal primaries”. The law also envisages that one can stay in office for only two consecutive terms, and leaves the governor’s electoral threshold for regional parliaments to establish.”

According to the report, the first elections will be held in three regions in October this year.

This reform is doubly interesting, because prior to the 2004 reform many Russian regions had semi-presidential constitutions. Previous posts on this topic are available from here. My assumption is that this new reform will restore semi-presidentialism from a constitutional point of view.

Russia – Presidential election

The presidential election was held in Russia on Sunday. The result was hardly a surprise.

Valdimir Putin (United Russia) – 63.64%
Gennady Zyuganov (Communist Party) – 17.18%
Mikhail Prokhorov (Independent) – 7.94%
Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democratic Party) – 6.22%
Sergey Mironov (A Just Russia) – 3.85%

Turnout 62.25%

There is a report at The Monkey Cage.

Russia – Parliamentary election

The election to the Russian Duma was held on Sunday. There have been many reports of electoral fraud. However, the Russian Electoral Commission has announced the following preliminary results. I am taking the seat share from Wikipedia.

United Russia – 49.29%, 238 seats (-77)
Communist Party – 19.2%, 92 seats (+35)
A Just Russia – 13.25%, 64 seats (+26)
Liberal Democratic Party – 11.68%, 56 seats (+16)
Yabloko – 3.43%, 0 seats (no change)

There is some slightly cynical commentary on the elections at The Monkey Cage.

Russia – Putin endorsed as United Russia presidential candidate

It is hardly earth-shattering news, but the United Russia party has officially endorsed Vladimir Putin as the party’s presidential candidate. The election will take place on 4 March 2012. ITAR TASS reports that the decision to nominate Putin so early was to boost the party’s support in advance of the legislative elections, which will be held on 4 December.

The other Putin-related story that is currently doing the rounds concerns the poor reception that he received at a public engagement recently. He attended a contest between a Russian and an American fighter. The Russian won. Putin then climbed into the ring and started making a speech. He was booed by the audience. The event was covered on state television.

To say the least, it is unusual for Putin to be booed and even more unusual for it to happen live on television. Some people are trying to interpret it as the precursor of a ‘Russian spring’ with elections looming. This is perhaps over-optimistic. However, it is perhaps a sign that the regime is not as popular as it may seem.

There is footage of the booing here.

Russia – Putin to return as president

In Russia, after months of speculation, the future of the regime is now clear. PM Putin will be standing for the presidency again next year and President Medvedev will be leading the United Russia party at the forthcoming legislative elections, paving the way for a return to the prime ministership.

The announcements were made at the United Russia party congress on 24 September. (There is an RFE/RL report here).

The presidential election will be held in March 2012. The legislative election will take place in December 2011.

There are good commentaries on the decision at The Monkey Cage here and here.

Russia – President/PM rivalry

Taking a cue from Joshua Tucker’s nice post at The Monkey Cage, I want to signal the various posts at RFE/RL’s blog on Russia, The Power Vertical.

There are a couple of recent posts on the relationship between President Medvedev and PM Putin in the context of the upcoming presidential election, which is now less than a year away.

In addition, it is worth noting that at a speech at the end of last week PM Putin proposed the creation of what he called a Popular Front that would contest the election. The Popular Front would appear to be a United Russia ‘plus’ type of organisation, incorporating independents and social movements.

As far as I can decipher things, this seems to be a way of broadening support for the regime in the context of the forthcoming elections and also perhaps providing Putin with a vehicle to contest the presidency.

Russia – Regional elections

Regional and local elections were held in Russia at the weekend.

There were elections in 12 regions as well as a number of local-level elections. I only have information for the regional level.

Moscow News is reporting the following seat distribution across all 12 regions:

United Russia 375 seats
The Communist Party 71 seats
A Just Russia 46 seats
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia 33 seats
Patriots of Russia 10 seats
Independents 11 seats

Moscow News also has a nice graphic summarizing the preliminary results of the votes in the different regions.

Hopefully, you can make out that, unsurprisingly, United Russia was the largest party everywhere. However, there is at least some commentary to suggest that the results were disappointing in some areas and, of course, there is the plausible claim that even then the elections were not free or fair.

There is a pre-election report by the Carnegie Russia Center on what was at stake here.

Russia – Moscow mayor appointed

The new mayor of Moscow is Sergei Sobyanin. He replaces the long-standing mayor, Yury Luzhkov, who was dismissed by President Medvedev in September.

Mayor Sobyanin is being portrayed by the Russian news agency as a Putin loyalist. He was the former head of the presidential administration under Putin. He was also the former deputy prime minister of Russia.

He has no personal connections with Moscow. He was previously mayor of a small Russian city. So, he has been parachuted into the position by the incumbent regime.

Interestingly, one of his first decisions was to allow an opposition rally to be held in Moscow this Sunday. There is an article on the decision here.