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17.10.2021, Sunday. Moscow time: 03:53

Farewell, Referendum

Updated: 26.09.2002
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The Federal Law actually amending the Constitution of the RF was enacted on September 20, 2002 after the second reading. This law has passed the second reading only after the fourth attempt.

What Has Been Amended?

The Constitution says:

Article 3

1. The multinational People of the Russian Federation are the one and only source of power and the carrier of the sovereignty in the Russian Federation.

2. The People implement their power directly, as well as through the bodies of the state power and through local self-government bodies.

3. The referendum and the free elections are two forms of the highest and the most direct manifestation of the power of the People.

The Federal Law On the Referendum in the RF says:

Article 4.

The circumstances eliminating the Referendum of the Russian Federation.
The Referendum of the Russian Federation is not to be organized under the circumstances of a war footing or emergency enacted in the whole territory of the Russian Federation, as well as within three months from the date of cancellation of war footing or emergency.

Despite the differences in ideology no politician will argue against the fact that the Referendum is the first highest manifestation of the power of the People, while the elections are the second highest form. This is because any referendum reflects the will of the citizens directly, while the cession of the right to rule is an indirect expression of their will.

On September 20, 2002, the highest legislature of Russia, representing all its citizens, disposed the matter in a completely different way setting the priorities the other way around. In brief, in case a referendum is a barrier for the federal officials to be re-elected, it may now be barred. The federal elections are now placed higher than the nation-wide referenda, that is higher than the direct people will. The State Duma enacted the Amendment to the Federal Law On the Referendum , which had been initiated by the following Duma members: Vladimir Pekhtin, Vyacheslav Volodin, Gennadi Raikov, Oleg Morozov, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Ivanenko.

The new version of the Law as suggested by the Duma members, says:
"Organizing the Referendum of the Russian Federation is not allowed (exclusive of the cases when the referendum is called in accordance with the international treaties of the Russian Federation) during the period of election campaign held in the whole territory of the Russian Federation based on the decision of the respectively authorized federal agency. The Referendum is not allowed during the period of the last year of presidency of the President of the Russian Federation or the last year of the term of other federal bodies of power.

Until now the Constitution of the Russian Federation set the priorities rather unambiguously:

1. The Referendum is the highest form of manifestation of the Peoples will.

2. Electing of any official, even the most high-ranking official of the country, is a secondary matter.

3. Those violating the law are held criminally or administratively liable.

4. The nation-wide referenda are not allowed only in case of a war footing or emergency.

What Will the Citizens Lose?

Now it is impossible to schedule a national referendum within one year before the date of any federal election. The next federal elections are those to the State Duma, which means that referenda cannot be held in Russia starting from December 2002 until March 2003 (for the period of 15 months). The campaign for any referendum cannot be organized within 110 days before the date of the Presidential elections. Such campaign may be started only after the Presidential elections, and in case they require the second round it means not earlier than May 2004. Usually it takes 7 months from the date of submission of the petition for referendum to the actual date of voting:

- 15 days for registration of the initiating group;
- 3 months for collecting the signatures;
- 15 days for checking the signatures at the Central Election Commission;
- 10 days for checking the signatures at the Presidential Administration;
- 15 days for checking the signatures at the Constitutional Court of the RF;
- Issuing the Presidential Decree on conducting the referendum in 3 months.

Thus, the next possible referendum in Russia cannot be organized before January 2005 (two years and four months starting from now).

According to the new amendment to the Federal Law On the Referendum in the Russian Federation the citizens of Russia are guaranteed that Article 3 of the Constitution will cover only federal elections and not referenda. And this situation will remain unchanged for at least two years and four months.

According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation only the specially called Constitutional Assembly may introduce the amendments into it:

Article 135:

1. Clauses of Chapters 1, 2 and 9 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation cannot be revised by the Federal Assembly.

2. In case the proposal to revise the clauses of Chapters 1, 2 and 9 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation is supported by three fifths of the total votes of the Council of the Federation and of the State Duma, the Constitutional Assembly is called in accordance with the Federal Constitutional Law.

However, it turns out that practically the same effect equal to amending the Constitution may be easily reached by 304 votes of the State Duma members (131 voted against the proposed amendment, and there were no abstainers). The Duma hasnt changed the content of the Constitution; it only introduced the amendment into the constitutional law On the Referendum in the Russian Federation. But this amendment appears to be of great significance.

It has created a precedent of limitation of the citizens rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, through amending the federal laws. Thus, with the help of amending the law it became possible to actually sustain an almost two-year moratorium on Article 3 of the Constitution the thing that could be accomplished only in the conditions of a war footing or an emergency.

Why Hasten?

We should emphasize that all those amendments to the law (and the limitations of the Constitution) became in demand because the Communists were able to successfully pose a practical safe bet for the future referendum:

1.Do you agree with the fact that all lands within the Russian Federation should belong to the state exclusive of the land lots used for infields, backyards, gardens and garages, which may be privately owned by the citizens of the RF?

2.Do you agree with the fact that the total amount of housing rent together with utility fees (including energy tariffs) should not exceed 10% of the total family income?

3.Do you agree with the fact that the minimum wages and pension of a Russian citizen should not be less than the minimum living standard?

4.Do you agree with the fact that all the subsoil assets, woods, water reservoirs and other natural resources, as well as rail roads, fuel-and-energy enterprises, defense enterprises, ferrous and non-ferrous metal enterprises should belong to the state as objects ensuring the national security of Russia and the decent living for every Russian citizen?

The government has become seriously scared of such questions. In case of positive responses to all of the four questions the government will have to sacrifice some of its substantial rights to the interests of the citizens.

It is very interesting to follow the reasons presented by the democrats now in power, who are not willing to let in anyone else from outside: they are absolutely frank saying that such questions are not allowed to be asked because the unwise citizens will respond positively to all of them.

Unfortunately, the government views itself as a master, and the population as some unwise cattle or working horses, which need care and feeding to be able to survive and work. So could a master entrust the working herd to decide his own future?

That is why those who are in power (the masters) undertook an attempt to correct the mistake of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which had theoretically guaranteed the citizens the right to directly express their will in the for m of referenda. The people themselves would not limit their own rights. However, it became possible with the help of the Duma, pretty obedient to the masters. Then the Council of the Federation will adopt the amendment without any protraction and the President will quickly sign it, thus making the legislators responsible for it. And the Constitutional Court will remain silent, as usual.

What Could the Citizens Express at Referenda?

There isnt any significantly long-lasting tradition of the referenda in Russia.

On March 17, 1991 a national referendum was held. The question was: Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which all the rights and freedoms are guaranteed for a citizen of nay nationality or ethnic origin?

76.4% of the citizens of the USSR voted a YES. This hasnt been a barrier of any kind to the Soviet Union disintegration, which formally happened later exactly the same year.

Simultaneously an all-Russia referendum was held with the question: Do you consider necessary to introduce a position of the President of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, to be elected directly by the people at large? 69.85% voted positively.

On April 25, 1993, the next referendum was held on the following questions:

1) Do you trust the President of the Russian Federation B. N. Yeltsin? (58,7% - YES)

2) Do you approve of the social and economic policy implemented by the President of the Russian Federation and by the Government of the Russian Federation starting from the year 1992? (53,0% - YES)

3) Do you consider necessary to hold the elections of the President of the Russian Federation ahead of schedule? (49,5% - YES)

4) Do you consider necessary to hold the elections of the Peoples Deputies of the Russian Federation ahead of schedule? (67,2% - YES)

On December 12, 1993, 58,4% of all those who took part voted for the new Constitution of the Russian Federation.

After that all other attempts to organize any kind of nation-wide referenda failed because of formal bureaucratic reasons.

One of the abortive attempts of a referendum deserves to be specifically mentioned here, because it was initiated by one of the current referenda adversaries Boris Nemtsov:

Two and a half months before the date of the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation in 1999 the Union of the Right Forces started collecting the signatures under a petition for referendum on the following questions:

1.Are for extension of legal and political guarantees for protection of the private property of Russian citizens (including apartments, houses, land lots, bank deposits, etc.) from any impingement, including the impingement of the state?

2.Are you for equal criminal liability for the members of the State Duma and the Federal Assembly, just like any other citizen of the RF?

3.Are you for enlisting only contractual military servicemen to participate in military actions?

4.Are you for introducing the amendments into the Constitution of the RF to limit the right of the President to dismiss the government?

This referendum never took place, because the signature collectors were smart enough to include a sufficient amount of fake signatures into the lists. Despite the fact that the President of Russia had supported the idea to organize such a referendum between the Parliamentary and the Presidential elections, the Union of the Right Forces ignored such an opportunity to collect the signatures one more time. This shows that they needed the idea of the referendum only before the Duma elections, because it enabled them to use significantly more money, then the Federal Law on Elections to the State Duma would allow them.
The situation with the referendum initiated by the environmentalists was even grimmer. Despite the pretty univocal attitude of the citizens towards the issue of importing the nuclear waste into Russia, the vigilant bureaucrats after checking the signatures condemned all the preparatory work for the referendum.
In other words, different mechanisms of limitation and termination of peoples initiative do exist and do function promptly. So why would anyone need to abolish any referenda once and for good? There is no reasonable answer to this other that political practicability: not to let the Communists do something similar to what they had done themselves back in 1999, that is to engage larger funds for election campaign.

A.Firsov (original Russian text)

E. Alexeyenko (English translation)

Other articles on the same topic:

Referenda in the territory of the Russian Federation

Cherkizovs remark on September 23, 2002

Duma is not a criminal convention. Interview with Boris Nemtsov

Putin approved of the Rightists Union initiative on Referendum

A. A. Belkin. The issue of referendum on April 25, 1993

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