The State Duma is back to work after May holidays. Seven and a half months of hard work are behind, two and a half more are ahead. And that will be the end of the 7th State Duma’s first year of work. It is now too early to sum up the results of the inaugural year of the Russian parliament lower chamber’s work, but some peculiarities and distinctive features can still be figured out. More on the issue in the interview of Leonid Polyakov, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, head of the Department of General Politics of the Higher School of Economics, member of the ISEPR Foundation Expert Board, published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.
Let us start with the key question: has the transition from proportional electoral system, used in 2008 and 2011, to mixed (or semi-proportional) system, used last September, proved itself? Even today is is obvious that the answer should be positive at least for the reason that the substantial majority of the deputies elected in single-mandate constituencies were, to some extent, twice selected by voters.
The matter is that United Russia that got more than 200 mandates in majority constituencies formed its party lists of single-mandate candidates following the results of the primaries. This step provided all active citizens, who had leadership skills and knowledge and were ready to change the life of their local areas, cities, regions and the whole country for the better, with a chance to become a party member. It also allowed voters to take a closer look at the candidates from the ruling party, so at the elections to the State Duma they selected a candidate consciously, rather than at random.
This does not mean that single-mandate deputies compose a special privileged group in the State Duma. This only means that they made their way to the country’s highest legislative body under heightened competition. That is why they possess unquestionable personal legitimacy in the eyes of voters. And this fact, in its turn, adds some legitimacy to the institution itself – to the State Duma.
And this tendency is important in itself as an indicator of the democracy consolidation. But it is just as important that the strategy of reforming national political system, that has been being implemented since 2012, produces a desired effect. Due to a significant staff turnover in the parliament’s lower chamber and its growing legitimacy, the role of the legislature in the system not of separation of powers but rather of balance of powers becomes more significant. And this is a merit not only of the majority faction, but also of the opposition factions – Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia.
Over the past seven months the State Duma has reviewed 1029 bills, of which 968 – in the first reading.
Now about the style of the State Duma of the 7th convocation. Each of the previous convocations had its own “face”, its own peculiarities. And each of them contributed in its own way to the development of Russian parliamentarianism. Often these peculiarities were not understood immediately and became evident closer to the end of the legislatures’ work. The current convocation of the State Duma is different. Its main features became obvious at the first sessions may be for the reason that it was elected in September, exactly before the launch of the budget process, and immediately proceeded to the most important state issue.
The first important characteristic of the 7th State Duma is high level of professionalism. They started small – with tightening of discipline, that excludes “free mode”, truancy, voting instead of those who are absent and other liberties of the previous convocations. Understanding that deputy’s seat is not a means of holding a sinecure, but an obligation of responsible lawmaking has already resulted in adopting 240 new laws. In total, over the past seven months the State Duma has reviewed 1029 bills, of which 968 – in the first reading.
The second characteristic of the current convocation is its pragmatism when it comes to a working process. Despite the fact that all factions have different approaches to major problems of social and economic development of the country, the work of the committees is organized in a way that allows to reconcile the majority of political differences over the bills brought up for plenary sessions. Due to this, a bill is more likely to solve a problem in the national interests and to enhance stability.
In relation to this tendency, it is worth-while to mention the third feature of the State Duma: its firm adherence to its principles.
These first (but far from being final) remarks let us draw some conclusions. Taking into account how readily the new convocation of the State Duma engaged in crucial law-making processes and how committed to this work it is, we may say that as a result of the elections held in September we have got a brand new government institution. Staff changes, professionalism in decision-making, effective cooperation with the executive branch, openness to society – all these trends and characteristics help to achieve domestic and foreign policy goals established by the president.