With the evolving roles of countries’ leaders and their people, it is becoming more and more difficult to provide a clear-cut definition of the type of government in some states. Officially, both the USA and the Russian Federation are democratic republics. However, alterations in the systems of these two countries’ power allow for the emergence of doubts as for their purely democratic leadership. The analysis of the government structure and civic engagement of the USA and Russia, performed in this paper, indicates that neither of the two states may be considered as a purely democratic one.
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The Government Structure of the USA
According to the Constitution of the United States, the U.S. Government is comprised of three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. That way, power is divided equally among various people and groups so that none of them has too much power. The legislative branch, which is responsible for making laws, is represented by Congress, which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives (“Branches of the U.S. Government,” n.d.). The main representatives if the executive branch, the task of which is carrying out laws, are the president, the vice president, the Cabinet, and federal agencies. Finally, the judicial branch’s accountability is interpreting and evaluating laws. This branch includes the Supreme Court and other courts functioning in the country.
Each of the three branches can alter the decisions made by the other two. For instance, the president can turn down the laws created by Congress and appoint the heads of federal agencies. Congress can approve or reject those nominated by the president and dismiss the president in unprecedented circumstances. Finally, the Supreme Court’s Justices have the power to invalidate unconstitutional laws (“Branches of the U.S. Government,” n.d.). The capacity of each branch’s reaction to other branches’ decisions is entitled the system of checks and balances.
The legislative branch’s duties involve drafting the proposed laws, approving or vetoing the President’s nominations for federal agencies’ heads and judges, and declaring war. The main figure of the executive branch is the President, who serves four years after being elected by U.S. people. Apart from leading the Federal Government, the President also performs the function of the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces (“Branches of the U.S. Government,” n.d.). The Cabinet, which includes the vice President and Cabinet members, serves as an advisory panel for the President. The judicial branch not only interprets laws’ meaning but also applies laws to specific cases and declares whether they breach the Constitution (“Branches of the U.S. Government,” n.d.). The combined efforts of these three branches of Government are expected to provide the best care about the country’s citizens, as well as to arrange beneficial relationships with other states.
The Government Structure of Russia
In the Russian Federation, state power is also exercised by three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The President, the Federal Assembly (the State Duma and the Federation Council), the Government, and the courts make up the bodies responsible for carrying out state power in Russia (“The political system,” 2018). The President of Russia is elected for six years and serves as the head of the Government’s executive branch. The President is responsible for both internal and external affairs of the country, such as appointing ambassadors, signing agreements, and taking part in international meetings (Pariona, 2018). As well as the US President, the Russian head of the state is the military Commander-in-Chief. However, unlike the American President, the President of Russia can authorize laws without the approval of other governmental institutions. Apart from the President, the executive branch comprises the Cabinet (the Government), the members of which include the Prime Minister, federal ministers, and deputy prime ministers (Pariona, 2018). The major duty of the executive branch is carrying out the laws adopted by the President and the legislative branch.
The legislative branch is made up of two parts: the Federation Council (consisting of 166 members) and the State Duma (consisting of 450 members). The Federation Council impersonates the concerns of the people and votes on the policies approved by the State Duma (Pariona, 2018). For the law to be passed, it needs to receive a minimum of 51% of votes. The procedure is different for the amendments to the country’s Constitution, in which case, a 75% minimum of votes is sufficient for the approval. A veto from the Federation Council can be overruled by the State Duma. Other functions of the Duma include the approval of the Prime Minister and the decision on law proposals.
The judicial branch of the Russian Government is responsible for the endorsement of the country’s laws. Three types of courts make up the judicial branch: the constitutional, the arbitration, and the general jurisdiction one (Pariona, 2018). General jurisdiction courts, which supervise civil and criminal cases, incorporate municipal courts (the lowest level), regional (the middle level), and the Supreme Court (the highest level). Arbitration courts typically deal with commercial issues and property disputes. The Constitutional Court’s task involves interpreting laws and presidential directives and invalidating the ones it finds unconstitutional.
Aside from the mentioned three branches of Russian Government, local self-government is also worth mentioning. This entity entitles people to obtain an independent resolution of disputes at a local level. Additionally, local self-government deals with the possession, exploitation, and supervision of municipal property (“The political system,” 2018). This type of power is exerted by Russian people through elections, referendums, and other forms of will expression, as well as through elected self-government bodies.
Citizen Engagement in American Politics
In general, civic engagement and political participation in liberal democratic states, such as the USA, is not high. As Parvin (2018) reports, a probable reason for such a situation is a disproportionately low rate of citizens’ participation “at the lower end of the wealth and income distribution” (p. 34). Whereas in general, Americans feel quite pessimistic about their political leaders’ ability to alter the situation at a national level, they consider it quite possible to solve various problems at a local level. The most popular way of exercising one’s citizen engagement rights is voting in President’s elections (Vandermaas-Peeler, Cox, Najle, Fisch-Friedman, & Jones, 2018). However, people note the presence of factors restraining their engagement, such as the removal of eligible voters from lists, gerrymandering, and outside interference (Vandermaas-Peeler et al., 2018). As a result, citizen engagement in American politics cannot be considered as high.
Citizen Engagement in Russia
In Russia, the situation with civic engagement is much worse than in the USA. Due to the politics led by Putin, the current (and former) President, Russian people have only a “superficial” connection to democratic institutions and norms (Fert-Malka, 2018, para. 1). However, that is the case with political life at a national level. Meanwhile, at local levels, it is much easier for people to express their civic engagement and democratic sentiment. According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, local self-government is an independent institution separated from the top-down power execution by state authorities (Fert-Malka, 2018). The most prominent expression of local civic engagement is environmental activism, which is thriving at the local level but generally neglected at the national level (Fert-Malka, 2018). Overall, citizen engagement in Russian politics is in an unsatisfactory condition, local political life being the only dimension in which citizens can exercise their democratic endeavors.
The Evaluation of American Politics in Comparison to Russian Politics
Taking into account the analyses above, it is possible to conclude that the USA reflects an elite theory of government (oligarchy) rather than a pluralist theory (democracy). While people have the right to vote for the President, their freedoms are largely limited by this event. Everything that happens after the inauguration presupposes little participation of citizens. However, when comparing the American Government to that of the Russian Federation’s, it is evident that the USA is more democratic than Russia, the type of government in which is frequently referred to as a dictatorship. Still, if to scrutinize the USA’s Government in terms of the pure definition of democracy, it is necessary to admit that the country lacks some of the premises of this governmental type.
Both the USA and Russia have similar government structures in what concerns the division of power among three branches. In both countries, civil engagement is not developed at a sufficient level, which makes people feel underappreciated and discouraged in their governments. The analysis of the USA’s political structure allows titling the country oligarchy, whereas Russia may be referred to as a dictatorship state. Thus, compared to Russia, the USA is more democratic in the rights entitled to citizens.
Branches of the U.S. Government. (n.d.). Web.
Fert-Malka, M. (2018). Russia’s alternative political life. Web.
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Pariona, A. (2018). What type of government does Russia have? Web.
Parvin, P. (2018). Democracy without participation: A new politics for a disengaged era. Res Publica, 24(1), 31-52.
Vandermaas-Peeler, A., Cox, D., Najle, M., Fisch-Friedman, M., & Jones, R. P. (2018). American democracy in crisis: Civic engagement, young adult activism, and the 2018 midterm elections. Web.