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How Russian democracy works: Russian politics 101

Russia’s government is straightforward and easy to understand. Still many in the western media don’t have a clue

Russia is everywhere in the news today and that means people are focusing on Russian politicians. But who are they? What are their roles? How did they get there?

Here’s everything you need to know about how government in Russia functions.

The Federal Assembly 

This is Russia’s legislature. It is responsible for proposing and voting on individual legislative proposals and appointing and removing major officials.

The Federal Assembly has two legislative houses, the State Duma and the Federation Council. Each has distinct roles.

The State Duma 

The State Duma, sometimes called Russia’s Parliament is made up of democratically elected officials representing multiple parties.

Deputies to the state Duma are elected in one of two ways. 450 deputies are elected through party-list proportional representation. This is the most common voting method in Europe. Here, voters cast their opinion in favour of a party whose leadership delegates individuals to various regions to represent them in the event of a victory.

The remaining 225 seats are won through a single-member ‘first-past the post system’. Here several individuals from various parties or independent candidates stand in an election for a single seat. This is how America’s House of Representatives and Britain’s House of Commons is elected, for example.

Russia’s Duma has four major national parties.

United Russia: United Russia won a majority of seats in the most recent Duma election. This party is endorsed by President Putin and is generally considered a centre-right/moderate conservative party. It is one of Russia’s newer parties, founded in 2001.

United Russia is led by Prime Minister Dimity Medvedev

The Communist Party of The Russia Federation: This party is the successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It has remained consistently popular as a leading opposition party ever since 1991. It is currently the second most popular in Russia. It’s policies offer traditional Marxist-Leninist policies but it does not seek to subvert the Russian Constitution, does not call for revolution and unlike the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, does not seek to undermine the role of the Orthodox Church in Russia, even though most Communist remain non-believers.

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR): This is Russia’s second oldest party and the first officially registered party in the Soviet Union after the Communist Party. Founded and lead by dynamic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the party presents a combination of conservative policies that focus heavily on historical patriotism along with economic and social policies that are a combination of mixed-economy policies (capitalism and controlled economy) combined with a commitment to create stability and prosperity in Russia.

Many expect that as the Communist Party’s support ages, the LDPR will become an even bigger player in Russian politics. It currently is the third most popular party in Russia and almost supplanted the Communists as the main opposition party in the most recent Duma election.

A Fair Russia: This is Russia’s centre-left social democratic party. It had previously achieved success but in 2016’s Duma elections it came fourth place. It is still a major party though it’s popularity has recently waned.

The Federation Council of Russia: 

This is the upper-house of the Federal Assembly. It is comprised of 170 deputies (often called Senators), made up of two represntitives from each of Russia’s federal subjects (22 republics, 46 oblasts, 9 krais, 3 federal cities, 4 autonomous okrugs, 1 autonomous oblast).

The members are technically non-partisan but many have a party affiliation. Some want to change this and force each Federal Assembly deputy to declare his or her party openly as Duma deputies do. The LDPR recently proposed such a change.

The Federation Council is responsible for approving President decrees including emergency decree’s and declarations of war or mobilisation of the armed forces.

The Federation Council also must approve of official appointments and can remove corrupt officials including the President.

In practice, the Federation Council has many expert committees including in areas such as foreign affairs, the sciences, the arts and the environment. Many experts on everything from conflict resolution to modern trade initiatives sit in the Federation Council.

The Government of Russia 

The Government of Russia which fulfils a role similar to that of the US Cabinet, is made up of qualified individuals who are selected by the President.

At this time, the most famous such member of the Government is Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The Government is run by the Prime Minister who oversees the work of all other ministers. This position is currently held by Dimity Medvedev (a former President).

The current Defence Minister is Sergey Shoygu and the Finance Minister is Anton Siluanov.

The Government is responsible both to the President and also to the Federal Assembly.

The President of The Russian Federation 

Russia’s President is elected every 6 years on a one man/woman one vote basis. The Presdient is Russia’s formal head of state and is responsible for shaping foreign and domestic policy. The President often drafts legislation which is presented by a faction of the Duma.

The President has the ability to issue special decrees including emergency decrees. He or she is also responsible for making formal declarations of war.

The President’s most important role is represneting Russia on a world stage.

Russia’s current President is Vladimir Putin. He is eligible to run again in 2018 and most polls indicate that if he does, he will win due to his high approval rating among Russian citizens.

How to run for office at a national level

To become a deputy of the State Duma you must be a Russian citizen over the age of 21. If you are a member of one of Russia’s 14 official parties, it is up to the party to select which region you would represent in the event of a victory at the ballot box.

If you want to start your own party, you must obtain 200,000 signatures from your fellow citizens to get on the ballot.

To run as an independent in a single-member constituency you simply nominate yourself and campaign as best you can.

The vast majority of candidates are eligible for state funding to aid their campaign.

To get on the Russian Presidential ballot you do not need to do anything if you are a member of the State Duma. You simply declare register your candidacy.

If you aren’t but are a member of a major party, you must collect 150,000 signatures. If you wish to run as an independent you must collect 315,000 signatures.

Russia pioneered the use of webcams at all polling stations during all elections. This has helped Russia become one of the most transparent democracies in the world.

The Judiciary

Russia’s independent judiciary is governed by the All-Russian Congress of Judges. This body appoints judges based on personal merit and legal scholarship. Lower court judges are often appointed by the Judicial Qualification Collegia.

Russia’s court system is made up of the following courts, starting with the highest court

–Constitutional Court of Russia

–Supreme Court of Russia

–Regional courts of Russian Federal Subjects

–Raion Courts or District courts.

Small civil matters are often handled by courts of arbitration where small criminal matters such as petty crimes are dealt with by Magistrate courts. Most divorce and family issues are also dealt with in Magistrate courts.

The Moral of This Story

Many people outside of Russia are quick to judge Russia’s governmental system from a position of having no knowledge of it.

In reality, Russia’s government is functional and not dissimilar from that of any other first world nation.

Russia’s political system is far more democratic than the EU and in recent years has shown itself to be far more stable and less confrontational than that of the United States.

Furthermore, while the US has two major parties who are always at each others throats, Russia has four major democratic parties and several other prominent medium sized ones, all of which agree on upholding the Russian Constitution.

When it comes to Russia, ignorance makes for exciting narratives, but knowledge is bliss.

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