The lower house of the Russian parliament (the Duma) on December 5 adopted a law "On the Formation of the Federation Council." (7) This lays down the rules whereby the upper house of parliament, or Senate, whose members represent the constituent territories of the Russian Federation, will be made up. The Russian constitution is vague on the subject, and it has been a bone of contention for months.
The dispute centered on whether the upper house should be composed of (a) regional leaders elected by the population and appointed to parliament ex officio (the variant favored by the Duma); (b) regional leaders appointed directly or indirectly by the president (as is presently the case for most though not all of the members); (c) delegates chosen by the regional leaders at their own discretion (the variant favored by the senators themselves).
In its original version of the law, adopted in early November, the Duma required regional leaders to be popularly elected before they entered the upper house. This version was vetoed by President Yeltsin and by the Federation Council, both of whom came up with alternative drafts of their own. The Federation Council’s draft allowed among other things, for the addition to the upper chamber of two federal representatives nominated by the president. Cynics maintained that one of these posts was earmarked for the present Speaker of the upper house, Vladimir Shumeiko, and that the entire conflict had its roots in Shumeiko’s desire to secure a job for himself in the new parliament.
The Duma stood by its guns. On December 5, it mustered the two-thirds vote necessary to override the presidential and Federation Council vetoes and reaffirmed its original draft, which says the upper house is to be made up of elected heads of regional legislatures and governments. (311 deputies voted in favor, 9 voted against and 5 abstained.)
The ball is now in the president’s court. Under the constitution, Yeltsin has 14 days in which to sign the bill into law. Pressure is likely to be put on him, by Shumeiko and others, to find a way of rejecting the law, perhaps by referring it to the Constitutional Court. But the mandate of the present Federation Council expires December 12 and Yeltsin is known to be concerned lest Russia find itself with only half a parliament after that date. His legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov said December 5 that he expected Yeltsin to sign the bill "in the near future." (8) "Further delay might destabilize the situation in parliament and then in society," Krasnov said. He noted, however, that it would be possible to make amendments to the law after it was adopted.