Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 20

On January 22, Russia’s Constitutional Court began its examination of legislation that gives the Russian president the power to remove a regional governor from office and to dissolve a regional legislature (Russian agencies, January 22). The legislation in question is part of a controversial package of bills Putin submitted to the State Duma in May 2000, soon after his election as president. His aim was to reassert federal control over Russia’s wayward regions. The bills were controversial because they gave the president the right to dismiss executives and legislators who had been popularly elected.

Russia’s regional leaders did their best at the time to resist Putin’s changes. In particular, they fenced the bill allowing the president to dismiss elected governors with restrictions. Putin’s original draft would have given the president the power to sack a governor virtually at will. The final version approved by parliament allowed him to dismiss one only if a court had ruled that the governor had failed to bring regional legislation into line with federal law, or if serious criminal charges had been brought against him. Dissolving a regional legislature was also made more difficult in requiring the president to present appropriate legislation to the State Duma up front. The upshot of all this was that the procedure for gubernatorial dismissals is now highly protracted and virtually impossible to achieve. It is well known that Putin decided not to use it even against the notorious former governor of Primorsky Krai, Yevgeny Nazdratenko. Instead Putin preferred to “persuade” Nazdratenko to exchange his governor’s post for the lucrative post of chairman of the State Fisheries Committee.

Even so, the Republics of Adygeya and Sakha (Yakutia) continue to insist that the president’s powers are now excessive. If such far-reaching powers are to be granted, they argue, they must be in strict accordance with the constitution. Lawyers for the president counter that the constitution cannot be expected to include everything–if it did, there would be no need for ordinary legislation (ORT, January 22). Having heard both sides of the argument, the Constitutional Court has now adjourned to deliberate.