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Duma (State Duma)

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Updated: 04.11.2003

Russian in full Gosudarstvennaya Duma ("State Assembly"), elected legislative body that, along with the State Council, constituted the imperial Russian legislature from 1906 until its dissolution at the time of the March 1917 Revolution.

State Duma buiding in Moscow

The Duma constituted the lower house of the Russian parliament, and the State Council was the upper house. As a traditional institution, the Duma (meaning "deliberation") had precedents in certain deliberative and advisory councils of pre-Soviet Russia, notably in the boyar dumas (existing from the 10th to the 17th century) and the city dumas (1785-1917). The State Duma, however, constituted the first genuine attempt toward parliamentary government in Russia.

Initiated as a result of the 1905 revolution, the Duma was established by Tsar Nicholas II in his October Manifesto (Oct. 30, 1905), which promised that it would be a representative assembly and that its approval would be necessary for the enactment of legislation. But the Fundamental Laws, issued in April 1906, before the First Duma met (May 1906), deprived it of control over state ministers and portions of the state budget and limited its ability to initiate legislation effectively.

Four Dumas met (May 10-July 21, 1906; March 5-June 16, 1907; Nov. 14, 1907-June 22, 1912; and Nov. 28, 1912-March 11, 1917). They rarely enjoyed the confidence or the cooperation of the ministers or the emperor, who retained the right to rule by decree when the Duma was not in session. The first two Dumas were elected indirectly (except in five large cities) by a system that gave undue representation to the peasantry, which the government expected to be conservative. The Dumas were, nevertheless, dominated by liberal and socialist opposition groups that demanded extensive reforms. Both Dumas were quickly dissolved by the tsar.

In 1907, by a virtual coup d'etat, Prime Minister Peter Stolypin restricted the franchise to reduce the representation of radical and national minority groups. The Third Duma, elected on that basis, was conservative. It generally supported the government's agrarian reforms and military reorganization; and, although it criticized bureaucratic abuses and government advisers, it survived its full five-year term.

The Fourth Duma was also conservative. But as World War I progressed, it became increasingly dissatisfied with the government's incompetence and negligence, especially in supplying the army. By the spring of 1915 the Duma had become a focal point of opposition to the imperial regime. At the outset of the March Revolution of 1917, it established the Provisional Committee of the Duma, which formed the first Provisional Government and accepted the abdication of Nicholas II.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation in 1993 replaced its old Soviet-era constitution with a new document that revived the name "State Duma" for the lower house of the newly created Federal Assembly, or Russian national parliament. (The Federation Council comprised the upper house.)

The revived Duma consists of 450 members elected by universal suffrage to a four-year term. Half of the Duma's members are elected by proportional representation, and the other half by single-member constituencies. The revived Duma is the chief legislative chamber and passes legislation by majority vote.

The Federal Assembly can override a presidential veto of such legislation by a two-thirds majority vote. The Duma also has the right to approve the prime minister and other high government officials nominated by the president.

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