Constitution Writing & Conflict Resolution
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Russia 1993

The 1993 Russian constitution grew out of a lengthy and at times tortured process that began before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In June 1990, the new Russian Congress of People's Deputies, elected in multi-candidate (but not multi-party) contests, appointed a Constitutional Commission chaired by Boris Yeltsin and consisting of approximately 100 deputies and legal experts. In the interim, the existing Breshnev-era constitution remained in force with numerous amendments; it required the Congress to approve changes to the constitution. The commission produced drafts of a republican constitution under the umbrella of the USSR in November 1990 and again in October 1991; the Congress of People's Deputies rejected both drafts. The USSR formally ceased to exist in December 1991, and on March 12, 1992 the Constitution Commission published a third draft, this time of a constitution for the Russian Federation. The Congress of People's Deputies approved the basic concept of this draft, but sent the text back for further revisions.

Yeltsin remained the head of the commission throughout this period, but he became estranged from the majority of the commission after he became the president of the Russian Federation. In March 1992 he published his own draft constitution, which had been drafted by a team of legal advisors led by Sergei Shakrai. The president and the commission attempted to resolve their differences in the summer of 1992, but by December attempts to create a joint draft had failed. The commission published a fourth draft in January 1993.

The impasse over the constitution reflected a larger dispute between the president and the legislature. The two sides agreed to a referendum on April 25 asking voters if they had confidence in the president. Yeltsin won this referendum with 58.7% of the vote, and four days later a second presidential draft authored by another group of presidential advisors was published. This text became the basis for the constitution eventually adopted. On May 12, Yeltsin appointed a 45-member committee composed of government ministers, legal experts, and regional leaders to revise this draft. He also announced that a Constitutional Conference would be held in June to review the presidential draft, but did not provide for a method by which the draft would be adopted.

The Constitutional Conference convened on June 5, 1993 and was to meet for ten days. The conference consisted of 750 members, including regional leaders, members of the legislature, leaders of political parties, legal experts, and representatives of trade unions and other social organizations. Attendance at the conference was by invitation of the president, although some groups were able to choose their own delegates. The conference worked in private, dividing into five working groups to consider sections of the draft constitution. While the presidential draft was the principal text, delegates also considered provisions from the legislative draft. The conference did not complete its work in the allotted 10 days, and the president's team appointed a 60-member conciliatory commission to finish work on the text. This group finished its work over the next few weeks, and on July 12, 1993, a reconvened constitutional conference approved the text with 433 of the 585 voting delegates in favor.

The vote of the Constitutional Conference did not suffice for ratification, nor did the conference provide a mechanism for ratification. The Supreme Soviet (the standing legislature) denounced the conference draft shortly after the conclusion of the conference, and adopted a resolution on the procedure for adopting a new constitution. On September 21, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament and issued a decree on constitutional reform. The legislature, which continued to meet, voted to impeach Yeltsin three days later. A week of conflict ensued, ending when legislators left a burning parliament building and surrendered to forces loyal to the president. Yeltsin decreed on October 15 that a plebiscite would be held to approve a new constitution, which would come into effect if supported by a majority of voters provided turnout exceeded 50%. Yeltsin's advisors amended the draft constitution approved by the constitutional conference, strengthening the presidency and removing some powers from the regions. This final text was published on November 10, 1993. The official results of the referendum, held on December 12, 1993, indicated that 58.4% of voters supported the constitution on turnout of 54.8%. The new constitution came into force on December 25, 1993.

 

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