Implications of Early Elections to the Presidency of the Russian Federation
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) has prepared an informational document about the implications for holding early presidential elections should the President of the Russian Federation for any reason leave office before the end of his term. IFES, a non-profit, non-partisan private Foundation, has been present and working in Russia since 1993 at the invitation of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. IFES respects the difficult choices being made by Russia's politicians, policy makers, and citizens. Departure of the President for any reason before the end of his term would raise the following questions:
1. Who would fulfill the duties of the President?
The duties of the President would be temporarily fulfilled by the Prime Minister.1 The Constitution does not clearly state, however, whether this would apply to an Acting Prime Minister that has been appointed but not yet approved by the State Duma; nor does it delineate any other line of succession to the Presidency.
2. What powers would the Acting President have?
The Acting President would hold the same powers as an elected President, except he would have no right to dissolve the State Duma, announce a referendum, or submit proposals to amend or change the Constitution of the Russian Federation.2
3. Who would resolve contentious legal questions that might arise?
Russia has both a Constitutional Court and a Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court would be responsible for resolving constitutional issues, such as those pertaining to federal laws, presidential decrees, and disputes over the jurisdiction between federal governing and legislative bodies.3 The Supreme Court and courts of general jurisdiction would handle other election-related disputes, such as appeals to decisions made by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation and lower level courts.4
4. When would a new presidential election occur?
Early elections must occur within three (3) months of the termination of the President's powers.5 Should the Federation Council fail to set a date for the elections within a maximum of two (2) days, the Central Election Commission is required by law to announce the date.6
5. Who would conduct early elections?
The Central Election Commission would administer early presidential elections. It has a permanent body of 15 commissioners, of which five are appointed by the State Duma (lower house); five by the Federation Council (upper house); and five by the President. All commissioners were appointed in 1994 for a period of four (4) years; the nomination process for the new commissioners will be initiated in January 1999 and completed by the end of March 1999. Dr. Alexander Ivanchenko is currently Chairman of the Central Election Commission. The CEC has a core permanent staff of approximately 150 people.
Under the Central Election Commission there is a hierarchy of 89 Subject Elections Commissions (one for each of Russia's 89 regions); 2736 Territorial Election Commissions; and 93,900 Polling Site Election Commissions.
6. If early presidential elections were called today, is the legal framework sufficient?
As in 1996, presidential elections would be conducted under two main laws - the Voting Rights Act and the Presidential Election Law. Russia initiated an extensive overhaul of its electoral legislation by adopting a significantly revised Voting Rights Act in 1997. Although every election-related law must comply with the new Voting Rights Act,7 the State Duma has yet to enact changes to the current Presidential Election Law, and thus significant contradictions between the two laws remain. The State Duma has also failed to adopt important changes in campaign finance provisions since the last elections in 1996. While provisions in the Presidential Election Law would be superseded by those they contradict in the Voting Rights Act, the other provisions would likely remain intact or need interpretation. The prospect of early parliamentary elections in March 1998 raised similar issues since a revised Parliamentary Election Law had not yet been adopted. In such as situation, it is likely that the conciliatory interpretations issued by the Central Election Commission would face challenges in the courts. A clear set of pre-defined rules is fundamental for any electoral process.
7. If early presidential elections were called today, could new laws be adopted?
Although changes to federal legislation regulating elections may be made after early elections are called, such provisions may not be implemented until after the election process is finished.8
8. How would contradictions between different election laws be resolved?
Provisions in the Voting Rights Act supersede contradictory provisions in the Presidential Election Law and other election related legislation.9 As the body charged with administering the electoral process, the Central Election Commission would be responsible for resolving contradictions between the Presidential Election Law and other related laws, and the Voting Rights Act. The Commission would then need to quickly communicate these decisions to the candidates, the media, the election commissions on all levels, and other relevant bodies.
9. How would an early presidential election differ from a regularly scheduled election?
The only major difference from a regularly scheduled election is that the calendar and all stipulated deadlines for conducting elections would be reduced by one quarter.10 This means that candidates would have less time to register their candidacy and campaign, and election commissions would have less time to prepare for and administer the electoral process.
10. Is Russia prepared to administer early elections?
The Central Election Commission, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year, conducted the 1995 parliamentary and 1996 presidential elections. Additionally, recent events have compelled the Commission to be prepared for early elections. The Commission continuously develops the capability of its personnel, procedures, and equipment to effectively conduct elections. For example, it has overseen the training of over one million election practitioners and has introduced a secure computerized system for conducting the initial tabulation of over 69 million votes in each election. Furthermore, Russia's permanent voter registry is updated twice a year. It was last revised in July 1998.
Although Russian electoral commissions appear to be capable of holding early elections, they may face three main issues. First, they may require additional funding from the State Budget as no federal elections or referenda were expected to occur in 1998 or early 1999. Second, they would need to quickly develop and distribute new administrative guidelines reconciling contradictory legislation and other election-related training and informational materials. Third, they would have to conduct a quick and extensive voter education campaign to give Russia's voters information on the candidates and any changes in the balloting process.
11. What Role Would Political Parties Play?
Electoral Associations (political parties) have the right to nominate candidates and run campaigns. A current provision in the Voting Rights Act, however, would likely prevent all of Russia's 22 registered political parties from participating in elections until May 1999.11 Although both houses of parliament have agreed to change this provision to allow parties that are represented in the State Duma to field candidates and campaign in early elections, the president has yet to sign the amendments. Additionally, groups of voters may also nominate candidates.
12. What role could the international community play to support the conduct of elections?
The international community should be responsive to the needs of Russia's election officials and voters. Regardless of the outcome, an election process that is perceived as free and fair by all the major political players and by the voters will be an important step toward restoring the legitimacy of Russia's institutions. Every effort should be made to work closely with Russia to identify and target necessary support for the process. Recognizing the impact of Russia's financial crisis and the short time in which to prepare for and administer elections, this support should be prompt and sufficient to respond to these needs.
1 Article 92 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation (Constitution of the RF)
2 Article 92 of the Constitution of the RF
3 Article 125 of the Constitution of the RF
4 Article 126 of the Constitution of the RF and Article 63 of the Federal Law On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights And the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum (Voting Rights Act)
5 Article 92 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation
6 Article 10 of the Voting Rights Act in conjunction with article 92 of the Constitution of the R.F.
7 Article 1 of the Voting Rights Act
8 Article 1 of the Voting Rights Act
9 Article 1 of the Voting Rights Act
10 Article 4 of the Federal Law on the Election of the President of the Russian Federation (Presidential Election Law)
11 Article 2 of the Voting Rights Act