Where is the super-presidential power?
Let us recall how the constitutional foundations of the new Russian state were built. A new state emerged, and the adoption of the new constitution was preceded by a period of political turbulence and the collapse of the empire. In this sense, the Russian Constitution can be compared to the post-war constitutions of European states. But it was even more than that — it was, in fact, a complete reboot of socio-political reality.
The fundamentally new reality included a new country, a new economy, new relationships to property, a new political philosophy based on internationally recognized civil norms, and the establishment of the institutions of Western democracy and the principle of alternation of power.
It was a huge-scale political, economic, philosophical, and psychological shift. The scope of these constitutional changes explains why many respondents of sociological surveys believed that the framers of the 1993 Constitution were foreigners and that it was written in the USA.
This was the context surrounding the emergence of the new constitution. Aside from these factors, the drafting process was also impacted by the political struggle and the incompleteness of the bourgeois revolution from above. The constitution’s bias toward the executive branch was largely due to the fact that it would be impossible to implement economic reform under a dual-power system where the executive and legislative branches were constantly butting heads. This does not mean that the reformers had a “Russian Pinochet” in mind. It was a more practical choice led by the desire to block counter-reformist measures.
The constitution, however, did not save the reformers during the 1998 crisis, when the Duma shot down all the legislative acts needed to overcome a possible default.
After the financial default of 1998, the very same Duma managed to thwart attempts to appoint Viktor Chernomyrdin as Prime Minister, although he had a clear program of post-crisis economic steps.
So, contrary to wide-spread criticism, the 1993 Constitution did not provide for super-presidential dictatorial power. Historical facts do not confirm that the constitution contributed to the authoritarianization of the system per se.It wasn’t the constitution’s fault
Although the 1993 Constitution was — strictly according to Lenin
— a reflection of “the actual balance of forces in the class struggle,” it also ended up shaping social reality. This reality, however, turned out to be stronger and more resilient than the constitution, and took on a life of its own. The fact that a broad presidential authority was defined in these fundamental laws did not necessarily portend the political system’s swing toward authoritarianism. It was not the Constitution’s fault.