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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Budget Deal Gives Duma New Image

The Duma's passing of the 1997 budget was significant, not so much for the document itself as for the rarely seen manner in which the government and legislature cooperated in easing it through the political process.

Most parliamentarians involved in the debate certainly doubt that the government will be able to honor all of its budget commitments. Doubtless so does the International Monetary Fund and even the government itself. But at a time when no budget is likely to be accurate, it is in the political process where real strides can be taken.

The government has been spared a political standoff with the legislature by making acceptable concessions, and can now, at least for a time, proclaim that Russia's economic stability is assured. This can only help in dealings with the IMF and the international financial community in general.

But parliament also emerged favorably from the budget debate. It got to flex its muscles and demand compromise, and can justifiably take pride in its new image of a responsible legislature. In fact, the dealing over the budget reflects a dramatic change in relations between the executive and the legislature that has taken place since the present Duma was voted into being last December.

The first Duma, created in the shadow of October 1993, showed itself to be a toothless body capable of little more than posturing. And when the new parliament was elected in December 1995 with a strong communist component, expectations were not high.

But over the past year the Duma has worked out a modus vivendi with the executive branch, and the 1997 budget debate came close to looking like the workings of a parliamentary democracy, with its backroom horsetrading, public grandstanding, and, ultimately, sober action from both sides.

The executive and the legislature have been brought together by a curious confluence of circumstances: Neither side can risk confrontation at this point, with the attendant danger that the president could dissolve the parliament and precipitate new elections.

For the communist-dominated legislature, new elections could mean the rise of the hardline left, and the loss of control by Gennady Zyuganov's more moderate wing of his communist-nationalist coalition. For the government, of course, a new, hardline Duma could be much worse than the one it has now.

Sooner or later, however, the problem of the constitutionally embedded power imbalance between Russia's president and parliament will have to be addressed. Perhaps, as the Duma and Federation Council build a record and identity over time, they may even be able to redress some of those imbalances through the now effectively impossible procedures of constitutional amendment.