Understanding of the people’s representation role and place in the political system of modern Russia would be difficult without a thorough study of the centuries-old history of legislative institutions — from veche and Boyar duma up to pre-Revolution State Dumas and State Council, the Soviets and modern forms of parliamentary democracy.
Veche was the form of people’s direct participation in state affairs. It was the assembly of all free citizens. Every issue of state life could be a matter of discussion. Questions concerning invitation and exile of princes, start of military campaigns and signing peace treaties were discussed most often. In a greater part of the Russian lands veche assemblies were not held after the Tatar-Mongol invasion. In the north-west of Russia (Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk) veches played very important role and existed for a longer period of time, because these lands were not ravaged by Tatar-Mongol warriors. Yet, after these territories became part of the Moscow czardom, veches began to die away there as well.
Prince’s dumas functioned in all Russian lands. They were permanent councils, each attached to a particular prince, consisting of his closest companions-in-arms. As a rule, a prince never started any important business without having consulted his boyars. Representatives of clergy participated in prince’s dumas quite often, still their participation was not permanent.
The Boyar duma was a successor of prince’s dumas in the new historical surrounding of the Moscow csardom. No governor could rule without a duma, Ivan the Terrible included.
The Boyar duma was not independent. It always acted in conference with the czar, as united higher authority. This unity was most evident in legislation and international affairs. The following form of pronouncing a decision was very common: ” The czar have orded and the boyars condemn…“ or ”According to the czar’s order, the boyars condemned…“
The Boyar duma functioned till the end of the XVII century and was later reorganized into the Senate.
Zemsky sobors, that played an important role in legislation, were among most distinguished affairs of the Moscow czardom political life in theXVI-XVII centuries. Zemsky sobor of the XVII century consisted of two parts: one included higher authority and clergy representatives, members of the Boyar duma and heads of departments, the other assembled elective representatives from all estates.
Zemsky sobors enjoyed wide powers regarding election of the czar in emergency cases, international affairs, taxation, interstate security and even military orders in case of enemy invasion.
In the times of Alexey Mikhailovich Zemsky sobors played a significant role in working out and systematizing of laws. It is no coincidence, that the code of laws dating back to 1649 was given the name of Sobornoe Ulojenie.
In 1653 the last Zemsky sobor was held. Since then representatives of all the people were have not been assembled any more. Yet, the government invited delegates from the estate concerned, when discussing issues that could affect its interests. These delegates formed a kind of ”expert commission“.
The governing Senate, established in 1711, acquired special importance in the times of Peter I. This institution was in charge of all most significant issues concerning governance, prosecution and current legislation. The Senate, founded by Peter I, had very little in common with the Senates of Sweden, Poland or other countries. The Senate received broad authority as it was supposed ”to act for His Imperial Majesty’s own person“ during his recent departures, depriving him of current affairs.
The Senate did not in any way limit the power of Peter I, for it acted on the czar’s orders only and reported to the czar directly. Under Peter’s successors the Senate’s role became less important, first of all — in legislative sphere. In 1802 Alexander I finally deprived the Senate of its legislative and consultative status and entrusted these functions to the State Council.
The State Council, founded in 1801, became the highest legislative and consultative institution of the Russian Empire in 1810. Every law should be discussed in the State Council before being introduced to the Emperor for approval.
The czar appointed higher officials members of the State Council until 1906. Ministers became members of the State Council ex officio. From 1812 to 1865 Chairman of the State Council was simultaneously Chairman of the Cabinet.
The State Council contributed a lot to the preparation and publishing of the first Complete Edition of Laws and the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire (33 volumes of the Complete Edition and 15 — of the Code of Laws were published by 1833). Under the rule of Alexander II the State Council actively participated in working out the law basis for reforms of the 60-ies and 70-ies.
In 1906 Nicolay II established two-chamber system of higher legislative authority. The State Duma became the lower, and the State Council — the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament.
After 1906 the State Council worked as half-representative institution. Chairman, vice-chairman and one half of the Council’s members were appointed by the Emperor, the other half — elected among representatives of clergy, nobility, zemstvo, the Academy of Sciences and university professors, largest trade and industrial associations.
The State Duma and the State Council had equal legislative power. The Emperor was offered to consider only those bills, which had already got the approval of both chambers.
Since 1913–1914 Nicolay II and the czar government have practically seized cooperation with legislative chambers.
After the February Revolution neither the State Duma nor the State Council renewed their activity. February of 1917 was the end of brief history of parliamentary traditions in Russia in the beginning of XX century.
The February and October Revolutions introduced a new system of representative power — the Soviets.
The Supreme Soviet of the USSR was the highest state authority of the USSR in charge of most important issues concerning state-construction, economy, social and cultural spheres, foreign policy, highest control on state apparatus’ activities. According to the Constitution, the Supreme Soviet had the power to elect the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, to form the Government and the Supreme Court of the USSR, to appoint Prosecutor-General of the USSR. The Supreme Soviet could form inquiry and revision committees on any problem.
The Supreme Soviet was elected for 4 years by general, equal and direct vote of all citizens of the country. Every citizen of the USSR over 23 years old could be elected as deputy.
The Supreme Soviet of the USSR consisted of two chambers with equal rights — the Council of Union and Council of Nationalities. The Council of Union was elected according to the following pattern: one deputy from each 300 thousands of the population. The Council of Nationalities consisted of 32 deputies elected from each republic of the Union, 11 — from each autonomous republic, 5 — from each national district and 1 — from each national area.
Both chambers enjoyed the right of legislative initiative. Their sessions were held simultaneously. The matter was examined by the Conciliation Commission formed on equal footing by both chambers in case of contradiction between the chambers.
Each chamber had its permanent commissions: on mandates, on legislative propositions, on planning and budget, on foreign affairs, on youth problems, on issues concerning certain branches and groups of branches of economy, on state management.
Legislative activity of the Supreme Soviet was carried out by adopting the laws or by approving the Resolutions of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, passed between sessions.
Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had wide authority to make amendments and addenda to the acting Code of Laws, including laws of the USSR and Basic Laws of the Union and Union Republics. Resolutions of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on general normative issues were approved on sessions of the Supreme Soviet, which were held twice a year.
The bills were voted separately in both chambers. A bill was considered as passed, if simple majority of votes was given for it in each chamber (for approving of amendments to the Constitution a qualified majority of not less than 2/3 of votes in each chamber was needed). The ruling core of all state authority, including the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, was the Communist Party. The Party raised tasks defined the functions of each Soviet, the Supreme Soviet included.
The Supreme Soviet’s functioning demonstrated that the Soviet’s activity combined the sprouts of democracy, which afforded to keep tense linkage between deputies and their electorate, promote parliamentary culture, contribute to the development and improvement of legislative system on one hand, and formal bureaucratic style of decision-making, that was a consequence of party-political approach to all spheres of state life, legislation included, on the other hand.
After Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR concerning leading and directing role of the CPSU had been revocated, the Soviets of all levels became more active. Work of the Congresses of the People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR was most fruitful. Only in 1990 more than 150 bills laying down the basis for market reforms, lawfully confirming the right to private property, introducing new forms of property and economic activity and confirming their equality, promoting competition environment, were passed. The institution of presidency and the Constitutional Court were established.
The statute of the Council of the Federation was adopted by the Resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on January 30, 1991. The Council of the Federation became a consultative and coordination body consisting of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR (Chairman of the Council of the Federation), Chairmen of the Supreme Soviets of the Republics, autonomous regions and districts, areas, regions, the Moscow and Leningrad City Councils.
The Council of the Federation of the RSFSR held its sessions twice (on November 22, 1990 and January 23, 1991) and made a certain contribution to the preparation of the Federal Treaty.
After the Constitutional reform of late 1993 the institutions of Soviet power seized their work both in Moscow (the Congress, the Supreme Soviet) and in most subjects of Federation.
The procedure of formation of the Council of the Federation by election held according to the majoritary system was defined by Presidential Decrees N1626 from October 11, 1993 ”On Elections to the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation“ and N 1846 from November 6, 1993 ”On Specification to the Resolution on Elections of Deputies to the State Duma and Resolution on Elections of Deputies to the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation in 1993“.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation, adopted on December 12, 1993 confirmed the status of two-chamber parliament, status of the Council of the Federation included.
The Resolution on election to the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation of the first convocation provided, that two deputies from each subject (constituent entity) of the Federation should enter the Council. Deputies to the upper chamber were elected in accordance with majoritary system from two-mandate electoral districts, which were formed within the borders of the subjects of the Federation (one electoral district on the territory of each subject (constituent entity) of Federation). Candidates to the Council of the Federation were proposed by groups of constituents or by electoral associations.
There were 494 candidates to the Council of the Federation registered. The election to the Council of the Federation of the first convocation was held on December 12, 1993. There were 171 people elected. On March 13, 1994 election to the Council of the Federation was held in Tatarstan and on May 15, 1994 it was followed by election in Chelyabinsk district. After these elections 4 more deputies joined the Council of the Federation. Total number of deputies elected to the Council of the Federation reached 175 people.
According to the Transition Resolutions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, members of the Council of the Federation of the first convocation exercised their powers on non-permanent basis.
The first Chairman of the Council of the Federation, elected on January 14, 1994, was Vladimir F. Shumeiko. During the two years of work (1994–1995) the Council of the Federation of the first convocation held 32 sessions and passed 173 resolutions on issues under its jurisdiction.
In the end of 1995 the Federal Treaty ”On Procedure of Forming of the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation“ was adopted. According to the Treaty, the Council of the Federation consisted of two representatives from each constituent entity of the Federation: the heads of legislative (representative) and executive bodies of state authorities ex officio.
The Council of the Federation of the second convocation assumed its powers on January 23, 1996. On its first session, held the same day, Egor S. Stroev, Head of Orel District Administration, was elected as Chairman of the Council of the Federation.
In the period of 1996–2001 the Council of the Federation of the second convocation held 47 sessions and passed 2843 resolutions.
The main result achieved by the Council of the Federation in the period of 1996–2000 was that it practically established itself as ”the chamber of regions“ — a true guarantor of political stability in the country.
In those years the Council of the Federation came out with initiatives of distinguished international arrangements several times. Among such arrangements is the Annual Economic Forum held in St. Petersburg. The Forum was started in the summer of 1997. It was attended by parliamentary delegations and leaders of states from all over the world, former republics of the USSR included, as well as by businessmen, bankers, financiers and public men.
The Baikal Economic Forum took place in September 2000 under the eagis of the Council of the Federation, next year it was followed up by International Conference ”The Baikal — World’s Heritage: Economy and Ecology“.
New Federal Law ”On Procedure of Forming of the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation“ came into force on August 8, 2000.
One of the main reasons for changing the procedure of forming of the Council of the Federation was the necessity to make the Council work on permanent basis.
According to the new law, representatives of executive bodies of state authorities from each constituent entity of the Russian Federation are appointed to the Council of the Federation by higher officials of the constituent entities of the Federation (leaders of higher executive bodies of state authorities of the constituent entities of Federation) for the term of office.
Members of the Council of the Federation, as representatives of the higher state authority in the constituent entities of the Federation, are elected by legislative (representative) body of state authority of the constituent entities of the Federation for the term of commission of the above mentioned body or the term of commission of once elected deputies of that body, if legislative (representative) authority of the constituent entity of Federation is formed according to the rotation principle.
Since in some constituent entities of the Russian Federation, such as the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Kabardin-Balkar Republic, the Republic of Saha (Yakutia) and the Sverdlovsk region, two-chamber legislative (representative) bodies of state authority have been formed, the new law provided that representatives from the above mentioned bodies should be elected in tern from each chamber for half a term of the chamber’s commission.
Before the Resolution on election (appointment) of new members to the Council of the Federation has come into force in accordance with the new Federal Law, acting members of the Council of the Federation, representing subjects of Federation ex officio, were to continue their work.
On December 5, 2001 Sergey M. Mironov, representing the Legislation Assembly of St. Petersburg in the Council of Federation, was elected Chairman of the Council of the Federation. The renewed Council of the Federation of the third convocation assumed its powers on January 16, 2001.
On January 30, 2002 the Council of the Federation adopted its new Regulations based on three major principles: precise depicting of the Council’s powers, preserving of succession of activities, evolution of the chamber’s structure towards the State Duma committees’ structure.
According to the new Regulations, 16 committees (on constitutional legislation; on legal and law issues; on budget; on financial markets and money circulation; on foreign affairs; on Commonwealth of Independent States issues; on Federation and regional policy issues; on local self-governance; on social policy; on economic policy, business and property; on industrial policy; on natural resources and environment protection; on agrarian and food policy; on science, culture, education, healthcare and ecology; on issues, relating to the Northern territories and national minorities) and 7 permanent commissions (on time limits and procedure of the parliamentary powers implementation; on control over ensuring of the Parliament’s activities; on methods of implementation of the Council of the Federation constitutional powers; on cooperation with the Accounting Chamber of the Russian Federation; on youth issues and sport; on information policy; on natural monopolies committees) were established within the Council of the Federation.
New rules of forming the Council of the Federation were introduced on 4 February 2009 on the basis of the Federal Law on making amendments to certain legal acts of the Russian Federation in connection with the changing of the rules of forming the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. In conformity with this legal act a citizen of the Russian Federation being a deputy to a legislative (representative) body of state power of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation or a deputy to a representative body of a municipal entity located on the territory of the given constituent entity may become a candidate to be elected representative to the Council of the Federation.
New rules of forming the Council of the Federation have come into force as of 1 January 2011, turning out to be a more democratic pattern, election of a member of the Council of the Federation element within. The very law cancelled the 10-year settlement qualification. Regions began to more actively use their right to recall a member of the Council of the Federation. This pattern could have had a negative impact on the senators professional composition. The Federal Law initiated by the chairmen of both the Council of the Federation and the State Duma and adopted in November 2011 became an important step on the way to improve the situation: according to its provisions the powers of a corresponding body of state power of the constituent entity of the Russian Federation terminating early, a member of the Council of the Federation, his mandate in force, may be re-approved for the new term without municipal or regional elections procedure.
Valentina Matvienko, representative of the executive body of state power of Saint Petersburg is the Chairperson of the Council of the Federation as of 31 August 2011.