Publication | Report/Paper

Parliamentary And Presidential Elections in Russia, 1999-2000 (Technical Assessment)


During its first ten years of democratic elections, the people of the Russian Federation have participated in several contested presidential and parliamentary elections and referenda. For most citizens of the Russian Federation, it was the first time in their lives that they experienced a real and peaceful transfer and transition of political power through the ballot box. In addition to federal elections for the Duma and presidency, elections have been conducted throughout the 1990s in the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation and at the local level to elect local Dumas and councils. Nearly every Sunday finds voters somewhere in this vast country of about 150 million people (and 107 million voters) going to the polls to elect some official or decide an important referendum. The choices presented to voters during this past decade have been unprecedented and have given Russians the opportunity to influence their future by the ballot box. While a difficult economy has dominated the headlines for the past decade, the birth and development of participatory democracy has been one of the crowning achievements of the Russian people.

On June 12, 1991, Russian citizens went to the polls to elect their first President, Boris Yeltsin, a man who would serve them for almost a decade. On 12 December 1993, Russian voters elected the first parliament following the breakup of the Soviet Union. In that election, voters elected members of the State Duma and of the Federation Council, the upper body of the parliament. Subsequent to that election, in 1995, the Duma made a significant change by eliminating the direct election of the Federation Council. Rather, the Federation Council was restructured to create uniform and equal representation of interests of Russia's 89 subjects. The Federation Council is comprised of 178 deputies, two from each subject. They assume their membership in the Council automatically, by virtue of their positions of leadership at the subject level. Namely, one of each region's members is the elected executive head of the subject (governors, or presidents in the case of autonomous subjects) and the second is the head of the regional legislative body, elected by the deputies of that body.

The Law on the Election of Deputies to the State Duma was also amended to bring it more into compliance with the law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation." The restructuring of these laws was accomplished in the years 1993-1995. In late 1992, the development of new election administration was initiated by a group of deputies and experts within the framework of the Constitutional Commission of the Congress of the Peoples Deputies of the Russian Federation. Their work, as modified, entered into force by presidential decree in the political crisis in the second half of 1993. On the basis of this decree, the first election to a new Russian parliament was conducted on 12 December 1993. At that same election, Russian voters ratified a new constitution that established basic voting rights for citizens of the Federation.

Electoral reform efforts in Russia have centered on a stated commitment to guaranteeing the rights of its citizens in the electoral process. Nevertheless, protecting the rights of over 100 million voters is a daunting task. The framework law on the "Basic Guarantees of Election Rights and the Rights to Participate in a Referendum" entered into force in 1994. This law was annulled with the passage of a new Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum" in September 1997. The Basic Guarantees law outlined a hierarchical structure of election commissions, formally recognized electoral associations and blocs as part of the political landscape, guaranteed the right of voters and candidates participating in the process, and developed fundamental principles for voting, counting and tabulation processes, among other innovations.

The Law on the Election of Deputies for the State Duma of the Federal Assembly and the Law on the Election of the Russian President of the Russian Federation were first adopted in 1995 and have been significantly modified since that time.

The continuous revision of laws regulating elections has resulted in much more specificity in the various codes. Some have argued that such detail has made uniform applicability and enforcement more difficult to achieve. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that they have raised election administration standards and allowed for improved processes for the election of more local officials.

While a good election law does not automatically translate into a well-conducted, free or fair process, it provides the framework within which the political actors must operate. It is essentially up to election administrators to ensure that these actors play by the rules of the game and that free and fair elections are conducted. The assessment team found considerable praise for the improvements made in the administration of the elections of the Russian Federation since the establishment of a permanent Central Election Commission in 1993. Many of those interviewed indicated that, procedurally, elections were conducted relatively free of widespread fraud, and commented positively on the role of the CEC.

This report is designed for Russian election administrators, lawmakers, and others as they evaluate these historic elections and pursue legal and procedural reforms. It includes recommendations and suggestions that are designed to promote the continued success of the electoral process in the Russian Federation. Indeed, the technical nature of the recommendations reflect the desire of the International Foundation for Election Systems to provide feasible and reasonable changes that, if implemented, will continue to enhance the credibility and transparency of the Russian electoral process as a whole.

The legal basis for the elections is described in detail in the first and second chapters of the report. Chapter 1 provides the fundamental structure in the Constitutional Basis for the Election System. In this chapter, the role of elections and the basic rights of Russian citizens to elect public officials are addressed. In addition, it details how the Constitution of the Russian Federation establishes the entire system of legislative acts regulating Federal elections. Chapter 2 is devoted to the Federal Laws Governing Elections. It describes how the law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum" goes further than the Constitution toward regulating all stages and aspects of the electoral process. The "Federal Law on the Election of the President of the Russian Federation" as well as the law "On the Federal Law on the Election of Deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation" are examined to provide information and analysis of the legal foundation for Duma and presidential elections. In addition, other federal laws and decrees and directives of the president of the Russian Federation that affect the election process are reviewed. This chapter makes a series of recommendations, including the need for an all-encompassing electoral code to reduce the confusion and problems caused by conflicting provisions in the federal laws governing elections.

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