Russia’s 4th Duma: 'useless droids' or powerful lawmakers

Russians are debating the role of their lower house, the State Duma, after its final session was closed before December elections. Some call it a 'rubber-stamp parliament', others – the most effective legislative body the country has ever had.

In the past four years, the outgoing deputies have passed almost a thousand laws, approved two prime ministers and changed the very way the parliament is formed.

The fourth Duma’s legacy is as extensive as it is divisive. The deputies have raised benefits for young mums and cancelled army deferments for young dads. It’s tightened penalties for terrorist activities and approved two amnesties. Deputies have passed affordable housing bills and witnessed real estate prices skyrocket.

Duma deputies at work – eager 
             to pass a law or two
Duma deputies at work – eager to pass a law or two

The head of the Duma’s Labour Committee says the last four years have been very labour-intensive.

“It’s been a time of real breakthroughs. We’ve come from saving our strengths to realising our goals. The forth Duma has worked hard,” said Andrey Isaev, State Duma deputy.

The Duma passed the cash-for-benefits law in 2004. It replaced the Soviet-era social privileges with scanty payments, leading to nation-wide protests. The reform was especially hard on the elderly who demanded the government resign. Two years on, the deputies say they’ve learned their lesson.

“The idea was good but the way it was implemented – hastily and without due preparation – has undermined the authority of the government,” said Aleksandr Babakov, State Duma deputy.

The social benefit monetisation law 
             caused nationwide protests
The social benefit monetisation law caused nationwide protests

One of the most controversial laws the Duma passed was about the parliament itself. Starting from this year only members of registered parties are allowed as candidates.

For independent deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov this means an end of his parliamentary career.

“The fourth Duma has yielded all the initiative to the executive branch. The deputies are now like androids, who follow every order of the government,” he says.

This year, for the first time in Russia’s history, the parliament passed a three-year budget.

“Budgets have become not only highly professional, they have become realistic. Starting from this year, Russia is adopting a three-year-long budget, which means that strategic planning of the nation’s fiscal policy has improved. That’s probably the strongest side of the Duma’s work,” said Boris Makarenko, from the Centre for Political Technologies.