Thursday, December 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Last Bicameral Regional Legislature in Russia Shut Down, Ending Yet Another of the ‘Checks and Balances’ of 1990s

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 2 – This week, the Sverdlovsk oblast government eliminated its bicameral legislature, the last federal subject to take a step which reverses the efforts of some regional leaders in the 1990s to create a system of “checks and balances” rather than to have one that permits more or less untrammeled executive authority.
And while this action, like those which preceded it in other regions over the last several years, including Tyva in April 2010, has attracted less attention than other aspects of the construction of Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed “power vertical” and homogenization of regional government structures, it is likely to have potentially far-reaching consequences.
On the one hand, the destruction of the bicameral system in the regions further reduces the power of the legislatures relative to that of the executive branch and also and perhaps more importantly reduces the significance of territorial units on which the upper house of these chambers were based.
And on the other, the completion of this homogenization drive could set the stage for a move to eliminate the Federation Council in the National Assembly, a body that is based on exactly the same principles that the upper houses of the regional legislatures were and one that might be eliminated as unnecessary at some point in the future.
The history of bicameralism in Sverdlovsk oblast is especially instructive in that regard. In 1994, when Eduard Rossel was governor, that federal subject created a two-house legislative assembly, with both houses based on single member districts and the upper house on larger administrative ones (
Supporters of bicameralism there, a commentary on yesterday noted, “asserted that it permitted a balancing of interests of territories, political movements, social organizations, organs of local self-administration, and entrepreneurs” and that it reflected Rossel’s commitment to “checks and balances” (
But when Rossel was replaced last year as governor by Aleksandr Misharin, whose approach more closely corresponds to Putin’s, the system was clearly doomed, and this week’s action, which also changed the number of deputies, their terms of office, and the definition of a quorum, appears to have become inevitable.
As an article in “Kommersant” notes, Misharin believes the new arrangement is both more efficient and cost effective, and he successfully pushed it through, despite opposition from the KPRF and LDPR. But significantly, their members objected less to the end of bicameralism than to the other changes (

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