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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congress: Power Separation Pivotal

Supporters of Boris Yeltsin called on legislators Monday to back his plan to define the separation of powers between Russia's president and parliament at the Dec. 1 Congress of People's Deputies.


Members of the Parliamentary Coalition for Reforms met at the Supreme Soviet to discuss the separation of powers issue, which has emerged as the pivotal question to be resolved at next week's meeting of the Congress.


They discussed a proposal outlined Sunday by State Secretary Gennady Burbulis for a "constitutional agreement" at the Congress, that would clarify the matter.


The legislators produced a leaflet which they plan to distribute at the Congress that calls for changes in the Constitution to delineate President Yeltsin's powers. They warned of political instability if the Congress failed to comply.


"In the critical moments of reform, the lack of a clear delineation of powers will lead to the paralysis of executive power", said Kirill Ignatyev, co-chairman of the Democratic Russia party that supports Yeltsin.


"The president's authority has very little legal basis", Ignatyev said. "All of the president's power is on loan".


The opening day of the Congress, Dec. 1, coincides with the expiration date of the special powers that parliament gave to Yeltsin a year ago allowing him to rule by decree and to appoint his cabinet.


The 1, 042-member legislature is considered unlikely to renew all of those powers when it meets. That would mean relying on Russia's amended 1978 constitution, which includes the principle of separation of powers but prescribes a weaker presidency.


"The president has no power of veto, he cannot name elections, call sessions", said Ignatyev.


The Supreme Soviet recently tried to limit presidential powers still further, passing a law on the government that would give lawmakers the final say in naming key ministers to the cabinet.


It would also subordinate the cabinet to the Supreme Soviet and the Congress, stripping Yeltsin of the right to dismiss key ministers.


Yeltsin has refused to sign the law, saying that it violates Article 122 of the Russian Constitution.


This states that the cabinet is subordinate only to the president.


The president's supporters said that such a provision would reduce Yeltsin to a figurehead.


Legislator Alexei Surkov brought up the contradictions between the new law and the Constitution in parliamentary debates before it was passed. But the speaker of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, responded, "We'll change the articles of the Constitution that contradict this law".


The Dec. 1 Congress would have the power to do that, introducing a disturbing precedent whereby the Constitution is virtually remodeled to fit new laws.


Democratic Russia predicted legislative chaos if the law was passed, warning that a similar law on local governments had proved a disaster.


"The only way out is to adopt a special constitutional act that would set a clear delineation of the functions of the legislative and the executive branches", read the statement the coalition plans to distribute at the Congress.


"Russian statehood has never had true separation of powers", said Surkov at Monday's meeting. "There exists a threat that if we ignore the issue now, Russia will never have separation of powers".