Chapter 1 of the Russian Constitution lays down the fundamental principles of the Russian Constitution that govern the Russian political system. This chapter gives a clear description of the nature of the state, the objectives of the constitution, the ideological basis, and the basic structure of the political system. These principles are as follows:-

Fundamental Principles of the Russian Constitution

  1. Firstly, the constitution declares that Russia is a democratic and federal state with a republican form of government.
  2. The second principle assigns supreme value to the rights and freedoms of man. It binds the state with a duty to recognize, respect, and to protect the rights and liberty of the citizens.
  3. Thirdly, sovereign power rests with the people and who shall exercise it indirectly through periodically elected representatives. Peoples’ power may also be directly expressed through referendums and free elections. Illegal seizure of power or usurpation of state authority is an illegal and punishable offense.
  4. The sovereignty of the Russian Federation extends throughout the entire territory of Russia. As such the constitution of Russia and the Federal Laws shall have supremacy throughout the entire country. The protection of the integrity and inviolability of the nation’s territory is the responsibility of the federal government.
  5. Russia is a Federation consisting of various types of constituent units. Each constituent unit shall have their own constitutions and their own set of laws. The whole federation is based on the principles of state integrity, uniform system of state power, division of powers between the federal government and the government of the federating units. Also, Rusian citizens enjoy the principle of self-determination.
  6. Citizenship in Russia, whether natural or naturalized, shall be acquired or terminated according to the Federal Law. Each citizen enjoys a single, equal, and uniform citizenship. Each citizen has equal rights and liberties as well as equal duties. Nobody shall be forced to change or leave his / her citizenship.
  7. The Russian Federation is a Social State that commits to creating through its policies conditions for ensuring a better life and the free development of the human personality for all its citizens. Thus, policies of the government shall aim at promoting and protecting the work and health of the people. Also to guarantee a minimum wage to all; state support for the family, motherhood, fatherhood, and childhood and to the disabled and the elderly citizens. The system of social services shall be developed and the system of social security shall be established.
  8. The state guarantees the integrity of the economic space. It supports the free flow of goods and services and the freedom of economic activity. Private, State, municipal, and other forms of property shall be protected on an equal basis. Land and other natural resources shall be protected and utilized for developing the life and activities of the people.
  9. The Principle of Separation of Powers is applicable in Russia. As such the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary shall perform separate functions and each shall be independent of the other.
  10. Since Russia is a federation, the central government and the unit governments will exercise their respective powers as specified in the Constitution or as provided in a Federation Treaty or any other such agreement.
  11. Local governments will have a recognized independent status within the limits of their competence. The bodies of local self-government cannot be parts of the state power bodies.
  12. The state shall recognize ideological pluralism in the country. There shall be no state-sponsored ideology. Thus the multi-party system replaces the single-party system of the previous regime.
  13. The constitution prohibits the organization of revolutionary organizations based on force and violence or those which violate the integrity of the country, or undermining national security or instigating social, racial, subnational, or religious strife.
  14. The constitution establishes a secular state. There shall be no state religion or mandatory religion in Russia. The state is separate from religion.
  15. The constitution recognizes the principles and norms of international law. All international treaties and agreements signed by Russia with other states shall become part of the supreme law of the land.
  16. The Constitution of Russia is the highest law of the land. All laws made by the federal government or by the regional and local governments must conform to it.
  17. Finally, no provision of the constitution shall be in conflict with these fundamental principles of the constitution.

THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION OF RUSSIA

The new constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted by a referendum on December 12th, 1993. Unlike the previous constitution of the communist regime. The new constitution commits itself to the norms and principles of western liberal democracy.

  1. The constitution of the Russian Federation was specially drafted, passed, enacted and adopted by the people Russia. It consists of two parts namely, Section A consisting of 137 articles. Section 2 consisting of the Concluding and Transitional Provisions.
  2. Chapters 9 includes articles 137. Chapter I deal with the fundamental principles for the governance of the state. It is similar to those found in liberal democratic states. Chapter II lists out the rights of the Russian citizens

Also, Chapter III deals with provisions relating to the federal structure of the State

Chapter IV, V, VI, and VII contains provisions relating to the President of the federation, the union legislature, the executive or the government of the federation, and the judiciary respectively.

Also, Chapter VIII deals with the government of the units.

Chapter IX contains the provisions for the amendment of the constitution itself

  1. The constitution of Russia is the supreme law of the land. It is universally applicable throughout the country. All laws and decrees of the union and units including the constitutions of the units must conform to it.
  2. The constitution is rigid. It can be amended only through a special procedure given in articles 134-137 of the constitution.
  3. Another unique feature is Chapter 1 of the Russian Constitution, which lays down the fundamental principles of the constitutional system. These principles constitute the charter of the spirit and the ideology of the Russian political system.
  4. This constitution asserts that Russia is a liberal democratic state. Unlike the previous regime, the country has no official ideology. Instead, ideological diversity is recognized, therefore paving the way for the operation of the multi-party system in the country. The constitution ensures free and fair elections to be held on universal adult franchise. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought and expression to all citizens. Besides, the constitution guarantees the independence of the Judiciary. The right to property and the right to inheritance have been recognized. As a result, a system of private economy has replaced the system of the socialist economy of the previous regime. The government or the ministry is accountable to the legislature and to the President for its actions. The citizens have a long list of fundamental rights and freedoms. The constitution obligates the state to recognize, observe, and protect the rights and freedoms mention in the constitution.
  5. Russia is a federal state. It consists of a central government and unit governments of several types numbering 89 in all. These are:

Republics (States) 21

Territories (Krays) 6

Oblasts (Provinces) 49

Autonomous Okrugs (National Areas) 10

Autonomous Oblast, 1

Federal Cities, 2.

The Constitution of Russia clearly defines the powers of the federal government and the governments of the constituent units. Article 71 spells out the exclusive powers of the federal government. It includes topics like adoption and amendment of the constitution, securing the compliance of the constitution of the units with the federal constitution, foreign policy, and foreign relations, defense, and security of the nation, currency, federal civil services, etc.

Article 72 list out the concurrent powers to administer both by the government of the union and the government of the units. It includes the following topics, protection of human rights and freedoms, demarcation of state property, use of natural resources, coordination of international and foreign economic relations, etc.

  1. The constitution of Russia recognizes the supremacy of the judiciary. The Constitutional Court of Russia has the power to protect the constitution. Also, to settle legal disputes between the center and the units and between the units themselves. The organization of the judiciary is different from other states. The constitution provides for three sets of courts. These are:

Those, which deal with civil, criminal, and administrative matters. At the top of such courts is the Supreme Court of Russia.

Arbitration Courts, which are judicial bodies for resolving economic disputes. At the apex of these courts is the Supreme Arbitration Court of Russia.

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which functions as the federal court. Its main responsibility is to interpret the constitution. This court is the guardian, protector and final interpreter of the constitution

Elaborate arrangements have also been made for the independence of the Russian Judiciary. The appointments of judges are on the basis of their qualifications and for a fixed duration. Further, they cannot be removed from the office except on grounds and in accordance with the procedure established by law. This lays down the ground for the judiciary to act fearlessly.

  1. The Constitution of Russia is a Republican Constitution. Article 1 declares Russia a Republic. Article 80 creates the office of the President. He/she shall be directly elected by the citizens based on a general equal and direct vote by secret ballot. A person cannot hold the office of President for more than two terms in succession.
  2. The constitution provides for a Quasi-Presidential form of government in the pattern of the French political system. The people directly elect the President of Russia. He heads the Russian federation and is the real head of the state. Like the US President, the Russian President cannot contest for a third term in a row.

In this form of government, the President has the power to propose a person of his choice as the Prime Minister of the nation. But subject to the approval of the State Duma. In case the State Duma rejects his proposals for three consecutive times, the president can dissolve the Duma. He can call for fresh elections to the State Duma. Thus, the appointment of the prime minister will depend on the response of the voters at the polls. The President also appoints the Deputy Prime Minister and the other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.

In this form of government again, the Government (Council of Ministers) is responsible to the State Duma. Thereby resembling a parliamentary form of government. However, unlike in the UK or Parliament of India, the President has the power not to accept the resignation of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers even after losing the vote of confidence in the State Duma. However if within three months, the State Duma re-passes the vote of no confidence against the Ministry, the President may accept the resignation of the Prime Minister, or he may dissolve the State Duma and call for new elections. Thus, the Prime Minister’s responsibility to the State Duma is only a formality. He continues in office as long as he enjoys the confidence of the President. But again, subject to the response of the voters at the polls.

  1. The constitution of Russia provides for a bi-cameral legislature. The national legislature is famous as the Federal Assembly. It consists of two chambers viz, the Federal Council and the State Duma.

The State Duma consists of 450 deputies directly elected by the voters based on Universal Adult Franchise. The Federal Council has 178 deputies. They are indirectly elected by the constituent units. Each constituent unit sends two representatives to this House (one elected by the representatives of the people and the other one by the executive bodies of state authority of the concerned constituent unit)

Both Houses of the Federal Assembly has law-making power over all federal and concurrent subjects. However, the President can exercise his veto power and the constitutional court can apply for judicial review over the laws passed by the Federal Assembly if they contravene the provisions of the constitution.

  1. Another unique feature of this constitution is that it includes elaborate provisions for the protection and maintenance of a healthy environment. It is the right of every Russian Citizen to live in a healthy environment. The constitution provides compensation for damages caused to one’s health and property due to an unhealthy environment. Similarly, it is the duty of all citizens to protect the environment, preserve nature, and to treat natural resources with care. The Russian Constitution, therefore, subscribes to the current environmental norms. Thus contributes to the development of international environmental standards.
  2. Chapter 8 of the constitution contains provisions regarding the Local Self Government. It provides for the creation of autonomous local self-government institutions for the cities, rural areas, and other localities. The people of each local area enjoy the right to organize and run their own local government. Also, to cater to the local needs and to decide on all local issues with the active involvement of the local people and the local representatives.
  3. The Constitution of Russia in Chapter II listed almost all the celebrated rights enjoyed by citizens in western liberal democracies. For e.g. equality before the law; freedom of speech and expression; right to the association; right to hold peaceful meetings; also, right to participate in the management of public affairs; right to religion: the right to property. Also, the right to social insurance; the right to live in a healthy environment, etc. At the same time, the constitution obligates citizens to perform certain duties, viz, to abide by the constitution and the law, to serve the motherland by rendering compulsory military service or any other services as and when they may be called upon.

Thus, the Constitution of 1993 affects a complete break from the constitution of (erstwhile) USSR. The present constitution reposes faith in liberalism, pluralism, and rule of law. It grants and guarantees equality to all citizens, all nationalities, and all subjects of the Russian Federation. In other words, it creates a truly pluralistic constitutional system with a spirit of liberal democracy.

PROCEDURE FOR THE AMENDMENT OF THE RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION

The provisions relating to the amendment of the Constitution of Russia are there in Chapter IX (articles 134-137) of the constitution.

Article 134 authorizes the following authorities or institutions to make the proposals to amend the constitution:

  1. The President of the Federation.
  2. The Federal Council or the State Duma.
  3. Council of Ministers (Government).
  4. The legislature of any constituent unit.
  5. Groups consisting of not less than 1/5 of the total members of the Federal Council or the State Duma.

Article 135 provides that the proposals for the amendment of provisions contained in Chapter I (Fundamental Principles of the Constitution), Chapter II (Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms) and Chapter IX (provisions for the amendment of the constitution itself), must be made by any of the authorities mentioned in Article 134 be and must be supported by 3/5 of the total deputies of the Federal Council and State Duma. Following which a special constituent assembly will be convened for the purpose. This assembly has the power to adopt the proposal by a 2/3 majority of its total strength. Finally, the draft of the proposal shall be submitted for a nationwide referendum in which more than half of the electorate must participate.

Article 136, provides for the amendment of chapters III to VIII of the constitution. The proposal to amend such provisions may be made by the authorities mention in Art 134. Also, it shall come to force after the Federal Council and State Duma approves it and also by not less than 2/3 of the legislatures of the constituent units.

Finally, Article 137 provides for the amendment of article 65 of the constitution (the composition of the Russian Federation). Proposals for such amendments may be made by the authorities mentioned in Article 134 and should be passed by both, the Federal Assembly and the State Duma. The proposal will also require the concurrence of the legislature of the unit or units concerned.

Related Articles:

What is Political Democracy?

Powers and Functions of Russian President

How does the Russian Government work?

Features of US Constitution

Salient Features of China Constitution