The Representation of Political and Economic Elites in the Russian Federation Council

Article excerpt

Abstract Today's Russian Federation Council, the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament, effectively represents the federal government in the regions rather than providing the regions representation in federal policy-making. The system of choosing members has evolved considerably over time, from direct elections in the early to mid-1990s, to appointments today by the regional executive and legislative branches. In practice, the appointment process is neither democratic, nor representative, instead giving strong benefits to the ruling United Russia party, whose members dominate the chamber. Businesspeople make up a third of the members, but Russia's largest energy and metals companies do not see the robber stamp body as a way to influence policy-making. (1)

According to Article 1 of the December 1993 Constitution the Russian Federation is--a democratic federative rule-of-law state with a republican form of government." (2) However, there are major concerns over the current regime's commitment to the principles of federalism. Since the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as Russian President in May 2000, federalism has come under attack and we have witnessed a concerted effort to rein in the power of the regional governors and presidents. Although Russia may have adopted all of the key structural trappings of a federation, neither the federal authorities nor the regions actually operate according to federal principles. Behind the formal veneer of democracy and constitutionalism, federal relations in Russia are dominated by informal, clientelistic, and extra-constitutional practices.

Putin's first two terms in office (2000-2008) saw the reinstitution of Soviet-style principles of hierarchy and centralized administrative control from Moscow. As a 2008 report of the Russian Federation Council stressed, "federal relations between the Russian Federation and its constituent entities are being replaced by administrative relations between federal and regional bodies of state power ... Federal units are turning into administrative-territorial ones, which threatens to reform a federal state into an administrative and unitary one." (3) Russia's regions are now fully integrated into Putin's "power-vertical" and the country is, in reality, a quasi-unitary state dressed in federal clothing.

Defining Federalism

According to Requejo, federations display the following key characteristics: 1) The existence of a two-tier government, both of which have legislative, executive and judicial powers with respect to their own competcnces, and ... fiscal autonomy; 2) mechanisms that channel the participation of the federated units in decision-making processes at the federal level ... usually a second chamber whose representatives are elected according to territorial criteria; 3) an institutional arbiter, usually a supreme court or a constitutional court; 4) the agreement on which the federation is based cannot be reformed unilaterally; and 5) the existence of mechanisms that facilitate and promote communication and co-operation. (4)

As point 2 notes, one of the key prerequisites for a federation is the creation of a bicameral national parliament with an upper chamber specially designed to accommodate regional interests. In this study we examine the powers and composition of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council.

The Russian Federation Council

All federal systems, as Stepan notes, "constrain elected governments at the center." (5) However, they vary considerably in the extent to which representation departs from the "one person, one vote" norm in favor of a "territorial concept of representation." In the Russian Federation all 83 republics and regions have equal representation in the Federation Council, even though there are massive variations in the size of their populations. Thus, for example, Moscow city and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug both have two "senators" even though Moscow's population is 273 times larger than that of Nenets, according to the 2010 census. …