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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Flawed Constitution

The Nov. 9 publication of the draft of Russia's new constitution caused a strange nostalgia for the period of stagnation. The majority of Russians remembers the pompous campaign when Leonid Brezhnev's constitution was put to a so-called "general discussion", when hundreds of thousands of people, who understood full well that nothing depended on them personally, were forced by their supervisors to send in "evaluations".


But today the Russian people have been deprived of even that entertainment. We have been greeted with a fait accompli: We can either accept the new law proposed by the president, or else not. There will be no discussion and no amendments.


It would seem logical, under the conditions that prevail in Russia after the events of Oct. 3-4, for the draft constitution to go through the ratification process in the republics and then be confirmed by the new parliament. But instead we are to have a referendum, which excludes the possibility of any kind of corrections to this extremely important state document.


Moreover, the constitution was written behind closed doors, by the president's staff. In effect, Boris Yeltsin is putting to a referendum the question of faith in himself as a leader claiming almost unlimited power. Will he receive this vote of confidence?


It is quite possible that he will. In all probability there will be no serious opposition to the referendum in the Russian regions, since, in the wake of Oct. 4, power there depends entirely on the president. There will probably be passive resistance from the republics. But this opposition will not be a deciding factor, at least in the near future.


There is every reason to believe that after Dec. 12 Russia will have a new constitution.


What kind of document is this new law? A preliminary analysis of the text allows one to conclude that it gives citizens complete freedom to live their lives. Once every four years they elect a president, which is the only way they have of controlling the government. Otherwise they do not get to meddle in the government's affairs. Power in Russia will be unified, and will belong to one person - the president.


The draft constitution makes an attempt to preserve the current state of affairs and keep the present political elite in power. This alone, given the serious changes in Russian society, could become the cause of massive social and political upheaval.


The first article of the draft constitution states that Russia is a democratic, federated state. But other articles seem to contradict this postulation. They contain references to a unitary, not a federated, state.


As far as the term "democratic" goes, it is difficult to call it democracy when the only means the society has of controlling the government is the right to participate in presidential elections once every four years.


Further analysis of the draft constitution reveals other contradictions. First and foremost this applies to federal relations. The draft constitution in essence cancels the earlier Federation Treaty.


For example, Article 72 states that control of land, minerals and other natural resources belongs to the federation. The center is trying to take back rights it had previously given to the subjects of the federation.


Will the subjects agree to such limits on their rights to control their own natural resources?


This is one land mine the draft constitution is laying beneath the state structure of Russia. When will it explode? How will these conflicts be decided?


No less dangerous are the contradictions in the proposed model for forming the central organs of power. All power in fact belongs to the president. Parliament becomes a purely decorative organization.


Why does the country need a parliament that, judging by the draft, does not have the right to form a government, cannot vote the government down, and does not even have the power to approve the budget? That is, a parliament with no power to even influence the executive branch, let alone to control it.


Such a situation creates the necessary conditions for a complete transfer of power to the president's staff. It sets up a structure that is not controlled by anyone or subordinate to anyone but the president. The most important government problems will likely be decided close to the throne, behind closed doors, not in the government and not in the parliament.


It is obvious that the authors of the draft of the new constitution wrote the document for a specific figure - Boris Yeltsin. It is no less obvious that they tried to keep the existing central bureaucracy in power for as long as possible.


But it seems that the present power structure is ill-served by this. It is enough to recall the recent unfortunate experience with an attempt to create a pseudo-democratic, totally controllable parliament in the U. S. S. R. None of the former union republics had a real vote. Many stormed out the door and the U. S. S. R. ceased to exist.


Another attempt to create a decorative parliament is dangerous. The Russian republics, with whom no one wants to negotiate, and with whom the center does not want to share power, could react to the intention to create a unitary state by escaping the control of the center. If they cannot find a solution within the new draft constitution, they may begin to look for a solution outside it.


The only justification for such a draft is the present situation in Russia, in which political parties are still too weak to form a government independently. In this case, the constitution could be a guarantor of stability. But not for an unlimited amount of time.


It seems clear that the new constitution of Russia will never celebrate a bicentennial, like the American one did.


Sergei Chagayev is a political observer for Izvestia. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.