Building on earlier work, this text combines theoretical perspectives with empirical work, to provide a comparative analysis of the electoral systems, party systems and governmental systems in the ethnic republics and regions of Russia. It also assesses the impact of these different institutional arrangements on democratization and federalism, moving the focus of research from the national level to the vitally important processes of institution building and democratization at the local level and to the study of federalism in Russia.
Since the early 1970s, a ‘third wave’ of democratisation has swept the world. In the period 1972–94, the number of democratic political systems doubled from 44 to 107. One school has focused on the preconditions necessary for the emergence of stable democracy. A second school has centred its research on the transition process. Here, scholars argue that the very nature of the transition itself largely determines the success or failure of democratisation. A third school focuses on the period after the collapse of the old regime and the problems associated with the consolidation of democracy. This chapter notes the imbalance by moving the focus of research from the national level to the vitally important processes of institution building and democratisation at the local level and to the study of federalism in Russia.
This chapter examines the origins of Russia's ethno-territorial form of federalism. The USSR's adoption of an ‘ethno-territorial’ form of federalism was originally designed as a temporary measure, adopted to entice the non-Russian nationalities to join the union. The discussion considers federalism and nationalism under Gorbachev; the foundations of Russia's constitutional institutions; and the Federal Treaty of March 31, 1992 which created an ‘asymmetrical federation’ with the rights granted to the ethnic republics far outweighing those given to the territorially based regions.
This chapter discusses the development of constitutional and political asymmetry in the Yeltsin era. In Russia, there was little evidence of consensus and compromise in the drafting of its constitution. Instead, the foundations of Russian constitutionalism were forged out of conflict and coercion, and the president's constitution was largely imposed on a weak and highly divided society, still reeling from the shock of the violent dissolution of the Russian parliament. Moreover, the parliament never discussed the version of the constitution that was submitted to the voters for ratification, and thus the chance for constitution-making to play a focal role in building consensus for democratic state power was lost. In conclusion, the bilateral treaties have led to a situation, whereby some poor regions are totally dependent on the centre and no real federal relations exist whilst a second stronger group has the trappings of federalism.
This chapter turns to a study of the ethnic make-up of the Russian Federation and the prospects for ethnic secessionism. For those who stress the positive side, federalism functions as a form of empowerment for regional groups and protects minorities from the tyranny of the majority. For those who stress the negative side, federalism is the problem rather than the solution, particularly in multinational states where ethnic boundaries coincide with boundaries of the federal subjects. The outright disintegration of the Russian Federation remains highly unlikely given the ethnic makeup and geo-political status of Russia's thirty-two ethnically defined subjects. Local democracy is surely a necessary pre-requisite for democratisation at the national level. And the provision of certain basic democratic procedures should, in a democracy, be universally available to all citizens across the federation regardless of their place of residence.
There are factors other than the ethnic one that must be considered in assessing the likelihood of secession and the prospects for democratic consolidation in the republics. He who controls the economy controls the polity. But who does control the purse strings in Russia, and how are federal funds distributed across the federation? To what degree have federal policies ameliorated the high levels of socio-economic asymmetry inherited from the USSR? The most important additional factor is the overall wealth and economic status of the federal subjects and the degree to which they are economically dependent on the centre. This chapter discusses socio-economic asymmetry and fiscal federalism.
This chapter examines regional elections and the problems of developing a viable party system. The problem of party building in Russia's regions comes not so much from ‘polarized pluralism’ or the danger of ‘anti-system parties’ threatening the stability of the party system. Russia's problem is that, with the exception of the KPRF, and the transient ‘parties of power’, there are no other national parties with sufficient organisational capacity and financial resources to compete effectively in federal wide elections. One of the striking features of local politics in Russia is the almost total partyless nature of regional election campaigns and the dismal representation of political parties in regional assemblies.
This chapter examines the struggle between executive and legislative bodies of power. One of the major problems with presidential systems is that they are, ‘prone to creating two opposing centres of power’, and often ‘legislative paralysis can set in when neither parliament nor president are strong enough to break the deadlocks which ensue’. In Russia, deadlock at the national level led to outright physical violence and the dissolution of the Russian Parliament in October 1993. And this struggle between parliament and president also gravitated downwards to the local level with similar battles occurring between regional assemblies and executive bodies of power.
This chapter examines Putin's radical reform of the federal system. It was Putin's election victories in 1999 and 2000 which paved the way for his audacious assault on the powers of the regional governors and his radical reform of the federal system. Whilst most students of Russian federalism support Putin in his quest to discipline unruly regional bosses, many have argued that the President's radical reform of the federal system may have ended up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Putin, it is argued, could have simply called for a more vigorous enforcement of existing executive powers. Putin faced the same dilemma as that of Gorbachev and Yeltsin before him, how to maintain the unity of the state without abandoning a commitment to democratisation.
Crafting authoritarian regimes in Russia’s regions and republics
Russia's constitutional asymmetry has prevented the development of universal norms of citizenship and human rights in the federation. Regional and republican elites have been able to adopt constitutions/charters and other laws which violate the federal constitution. And a number of the bilateral treaties signed between Moscow and the regions have sanctioned the transfer of unconstitutional rights and powers to the republics. This chapter examines the problems of consolidating democracy in Russia's regions and republics. It discusses the various ways in which presidents and governors have been able to gain a dominant control over their political systems. In particular, it examines the way in which leaders of the ethnic republics have been able to maintain power by manipulating the electoral system.