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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Court, No Faith in Constitution

Ever since the Communist Party lost its all-embracing grip on power, the debate on who rules Russia has raged on, occasionally breaking out into open confrontation, while the country has searched for a new post-Soviet identity.


At first, the problem lay in the constitution, or more accurately in the lack of one tailored to meet the needs of the new Russian state. Instead, the Brezhnev-vintage document served mainly to embolden those who would have preferred to row back to the glory days of the Soviet Union.


That should all have changed last December when a modern, if flawed, constitution was voted into effect in a nationwide, if contested, plebiscite. Yet the struggle over which powers belong to the Kremlin and which to the legislature has continued unabated -- this time for lack of a Constitutional Court.


That lack has been highly damaging for the growth of the country's still young democratic institutions, because ever since the new constitution was voted into effect its interpretation has been largely a matter of presidential whim. It hardly matters that Yeltsin's rule by decree has followed the right path a lot of the time. It has robbed the constitution of the respect that it needs to have force. Instead, it has amounted to a set of guidelines, meticulously worked out and enshrined with due solemnity, but lacking any real authority.


On Monday the last obstacle to creating the Constitutional Court should finally have been cleared away, however, when the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, voted in closed session on Yeltsin's six candidates to make up the court's 19 justices. They approved only three.


Once the court does convene it will be a true landmark in Russia's short post-Soviet history, bracketing a time of virtually untrammelled presidential power that began with the crushing of the former Supreme Soviet in October 1993. Only when the court starts working and both president and parliament acknowledge its authority will there be a basis to believe that Russia will develop a democratic political system of balanced and representative power.


By the same token, it was sad news indeed that the three candidates were rejected Monday, delaying the court's revival and eating away further at the strength and reputation of the constitution. For although hardly a panacea for the nation's ills, the court would make it possible for respect of the law to begin filtering down to local administrators, directors of enterprises, the police and law-enforcement officials.


Until now these officials -- like ordinary Russians -- have mainly had cause for cynicism when watching the example of the higher authorities in Moscow.