The Political System of the USA


The Political System

The United States is an indirect democracy – that is, the people rule through representa­tives they elect. Over time, the vote has been given to more and more people. In the be­ginning, only white men with property could vote. Today any citizen who is at least 18 years old can vote.

The Constitution

The United States Constitution, written in 1787, established the country's political sys­tem and is the basis for its laws. In 200 years, the United States has experienced enormous growth and change. Yet the Constitution works as well today as when it was written. One rea­son is that the Constitution can be amended, or changed. (For example, the Fifteenth Amendment gave black Americans the right to vote and the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.) Another reason is that the Constitution is flexible: its basic prin­ciples can be applied and interpreted differ­ently at different times.


The United States has a federalist system. This means that there are individual states, each with its own government, and there is a federal, or national, government. The President appoints the department heads, who together make up the President's Cabinet, or advisers. The agencies regulate specific areas. For example, the Environmen­tal Protection Agency tries to control pol­lution, while the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the stock markets. The judicial branch interprets the laws and makes sure that new laws are in keeping with the Constitution. There are several levels of federal courts. The Supreme Court is the most important. It has nine members, who are appointed for life.

The system of checks and balances, es­tablished by the Constitution, is meant to prevent any branch from having too much power. Each branch has certain controls over the other branches. For example, Congress makes the laws but the President can veto, or reject, a law and the Supreme Court can decide a law is unconstitutional.

State and Local Government

Each state has its own constitution. Like the national government, state governments are divided into legislative, executive, and judicial. The Constitution gives certain powers to the federal government, other powers to the state gov­ernments, and yet other powers to both. For example, only the national government can print money, the states establish their own school systems, and both the national and the state governments can collect taxes.

Three Branches of Government

Within the national government, power is di­vided among three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

The legislative branch consists of Con­gress, which has two parts – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress's main function is to make laws. There are 100 senators (two from each state) and 435 representatives (the number from each state depends on the size of the state's population).

The President is the head of the executive branch and the country. The executive branch administers the laws (decides how the laws should be carried out). In addition to the Pres­ident, the Vice-President, and their staffs, the executive branch consists of departments and agencies.

There are now 14 departments, including Treasury, State, Defense, and Health and Hu­man Services. Each department has different responsibilities.

There are state senators and rep­resentatives and state court systems. Just as the President is the leader of the national gov­ernment, each state has a governor as its leader. Below the state level of government, there are county and city governments.

Two-Party System

The United States has two main political par­ties – the Democratic and Republican parties. Many other smaller parties play little if any role.

Voters elect the President, as well as sen­ators, representatives, governor, etc. A voter can choose candidates from different parties (e.g., vote for Republicans for President and vice-president and a Democrat for senator), so the President does not have to be from the party that has a majority in Congress. In re­cent years, in fact, voters have tended to choose Republican presidents and Democratic congress people.

There are not clear differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. In general, the Republicans tend to be more conservative and to have more support among the upper classes, while the Democrats tend to be more liberal and to have more support among the working classes and the poor.

Comprehension questions

1Have there been many changes in the Constitution since it was written?

2What does “a federal system” mean?

3How many branches of power are there and what are their functions?

4What are the main political parties and how are the elections organized?

Unit 13 The State System of Russia. The Parliament of the Russian Federation

Before you read

Discuss these questions.

1 What is the meaning of the word combination “state system”?

2What do we study state systems for?

3 Are state systems the same in different countries?

4 Can a state system of a particular country undergo changes?

Text A

The State System of Russia

The Russian Federative Republic was set up by the Constitution of 1993.

Russia is a democratic federative law-governed state with a republican form of government. The population of Russia is about 144 million people and the territory is 6,6 million square miles. The Russian Federation consists of 84 constituent entities (republics, krays, oblasts, cities of federal significance, autonomous oblasts and autonomous okrugs, which have equal rights). The authorities of the constituent entities have the right to pass laws independently from the federal government. These laws are valid on the territory of the appropriate federate division, but they cannot contradict the federal laws. In case of conflicts between federal and local authorities, the President uses consensual procedures to resolve the problem. In the event a consensus is not reached, the dispute is transferred to the appropriate court for its resolution. The Russian President has the right to suspend acts passed by local executive authorities in case that these acts conflict with federal laws of Russia, its international commitments, or if they violate the human and civil rights and freedoms until the issue is resolved by appropriate court.

State power in Russia is carried out by dividing power into three independent branches: legislative, executive and judicial. Legislative power belongs to the Federal Assembly (the Parliament). Executive power belongs to the central and local governments. Judicial power is provided by appropriate judicial system and by civil administrative and criminal legislation.

The President is the head of the state and determines the basic objectives of the internal and external policy of the state. He is elected for four years on the basis of universal, equal and direct right to vote by secret ballot for all eligible citizens. One and the same person cannot serve as President for more than two terms in succession. The President stops performing his duties ahead of time if he resigns, because of impeachment, or if he cannot continue to carry out his duties due to poor health. Elections of a new President are to take place within three months and in the meantime his duties are acted upon by the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation.

The President appoints, with the consent of the State Duma, the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, chairs the meetings of the government, adopts the decisions on the resignation of the government. The President nominates to the State Duma a candidate for appointment to the post of the Chairman of the Central Bank, presents to the Federation Council candidates for the posts of the Constitutional and Supreme Court justices, Supreme Arbitrage Court justices, and a candidate for the post of Prosecutor General. The President forms and heads the Security Council. He is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and appoints and dismisses the supreme commanders of the Armed Forces. He appoints diplomatic representatives for approval by the Parliament. He confers supreme military and supreme special titles and honorary titles of the state. He has the right to show mercy and to decide on issues of citizenship. He has the right to introduce the state of emergency throughout the country or in a particular territory within the Russian Federation. The President has the right to dissolve the State Duma, to announce elections ahead of time and to pass the decision to conduct a referendum on federal issues.


ahead of time досрочно

chair v 1 возглавлять; 2 быть председателем

Chairman of the Central Bank Председатель центрального банка

citizenship n гражданство

commitment n обязательство

confer a title давать титул

consensual adj консенсуальный, основанный на устном соглашении сторон

constituent entity субъект Федерации

Constitutional Court конституционный суд

contradict v противоречить

dismiss v увольнять со службы

dissolve v распускать, прекращать деятельность

eligible adj обладающий избирательным правом

external policy внешняя политика

Federal Assembly Федеральное собрание

Federal Council Совет Федерации

federate division федеральный административный округ

honorary title почетное звание

in succession подряд, один за другим

internal policy внутренняя политика

introduce state of emergency вводить чрезвычайное положение

law-governed управляемый законом

Prosecutor General Генеральный прокурор

resign v 1 отказываться от должности; 2 слагать с себя обязанности;

3 уходить в отставку

resignation of the government отставка правительства

resolution n 1 решение; 2 разрешение (проблемы)

resolve the problem решать проблему

right to vote избирательное право

secret ballot тайное голосование

Security Council Совет безопасности

set up v учреждать

Chairman of the Government Председатель правительства

show mercy проявлять милосердие

significance n значение

State Duma Государственная Дума

Supreme Arbitrage Court Высший арбитражный суд

Supreme Commander-in-chief верховный главнокомандующий

Supreme Court Верховный суд

supreme special title высочайшее специальное звание

suspend v 1 приостанавливать; 2откладывать; 3 (временно) прекращать

valid adj действительный

violate v нарушать, преступать

Reading tasks

AAnswer these questions.

1 When was the Russian Federative Republic set up?

2 What type of state is Russia?

3 Who has the right to pass laws independently from the federal government?

4 When does the President use consensual procedures to resolve the problem?

5 Where is the dispute transferred to in case a consensus is not reached?

6 In which case does the President have the right to suspend acts passed by local

executive authorities?

7 What are the three independent branches of state power in Russia?

8 Who determines the basic objectives of internal and external policy?

9 What are the basic principles of voting when electing the President?

10 Who heads the Security Council?

11 What are other rights and duties of the President?

12 What happens if the President stops performing his duties ahead of time?

BComplete the following sentences using the facts from the text.

1The authorities of constituent entities have the right… .

2In case of conflict between federal and local authorities… .

3If the acts passed by local authorities conflict with federal laws, the President… .

4The President determines… .

5The highest judicial bodies are… .

CMark these statements T (true) or F (false) according to the information in the text.

1 Russia is a democratic federative state.

2 State power in Russia is concentrated in the hands of the President.

3 One and the same person can serve as President for more than two terms in succession.

4 Legislative power belongs to the Federal Assembly.

5 The state Duma cannot be dissolved.

6 The Chairman of the Government heads the Security Council.

7 The President is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Language focus

AComplete these statements with the appropriate preposition from the box.

within on by in throughout into about for

1The population of Russia is _______ 150 million people.

2The laws of constituent entities are valid _______ the territory of the appropriate division.

3The dispute is transferred to the court _______ its resolution.

4The President has the right to suspend acts passed _______ local authorities.

5State power is divided ______ three branches.

6One and the same person cannot serve as President for more than two terms _______ succession.

7Elections of a new President are to take place _______ three months.

8He has the right to introduce the state of emergency ______ the country.

BComplete the following text using the verbs in brackets in the present simple active or passive form.

Under the Constitution Russia is a Presidential Republic. The federal government 1) ________ (consist) of three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. Each of them 2) ________ (balance) by the President. The legislative power 3) _______ (vest) in the Federal Assembly. It 4) _______ (consist) of two chambers. Each chamber 5) _______ (head) by the Speaker. The President 6) _______ (sign) treaties, 7) _______ (enforce) laws, 8) ________ (appoint) ministers to be approved by the Federal Assembly.

The executive power 9) _______ (belong) to the government which 10) _______ (head) by the Prime Minister.

The judicial branch 11) _______ (represent) by the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and district courts.

The members of the Federal Assembly 12) ______ (elect) by popular vote for a four year period.

Vocabulary tasks

AChoose from the given group of words (a,b,c) the appropriate one which fits each gap.

1The President uses consensual procedures...

a) to veto the act b) to perform duties c) to resolve the problem.

2 The dispute is transferred to the appropriate court…

a) for its resolution b) for suspension c) for discussion.

3 State power in Russia is carried out by dividing powers…

a) between citizens b) into three c) for performing duties.

independent branches

4 The President stops performing his duties ahead of time if he resigns because of…

a) impeachment b) a state of emergency c) elections.

5 He also selects and releases diplomatic representatives for approval by…

a) the State Duma b) the Parliament c) the Chairman of the


BMatch these words and word combinations with their Russian equivalents.

representative a международные обязательства
to pass law b представитель
to be valid c принять закон
appropriate division d достичь согласия
to reach consensus e вводить чрезвычайное положение
to suspend the activity of an act f соответствующий административный округ
international obligations g приостановить действие закона
criminal legislation h быть действительным
external policy i внешняя политика
to perform one’s duties j освободить (от должности)
to release k выполнять свои обязанности
to introduce a state of emergency l уголовное законодательство

CComplete the diagram about the competence of the Russian President

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Text B