Within the governmental structure of mankind’s widespread interstellar empire, the Duma was perhaps the most anachronistic element. A throwback to more democratic times before the autocratic class system, its membership comprised citizens of all social levels. Except in very special cases, each planet had a single representative to the body, but the choices were left to each individual world.
On some worlds the local graf picked the representative based on his own particular whim. On others the representatives were picked by general elections. On some worlds the method was a combination of the two, where elections picked a pool of candidates and the graf made the final selection. There were even a few planets where being a Duma representative was a hereditary position, passed down from parent to child.
Terms of service were equally varied. The hereditary positions tended to be for life. Other representatives served for fixed term lengths. Many served purely at the pleasure of their planet’s ruler, and could be replaced with singular abruptness. The record holder was the planet Altoora, which once had five different representatives within the space of a single year.
Under normal circumstances the tsar was an autocrat, subject to no one’s whims but his own. The tsar made the laws, the tsar made the policies, the tsar dispensed justice. The Duma existed to “express the concerns of the planets,” as the official phrase went. Tsaritsa Olga had called it “the whining gallery.” Its main function was to complain and to suggest, with no authority to follow through on anything.
In point of fact, the Duma did have its influence on imperial matters. The tsar and his advisers couldn’t know everything that was going on throughout this vast empire, and the Duma provided a head’s-up for problems before they became unmanageable. It was also a useful testing ground for policy decisions. The Duma could debate issues without fear of taking responsibility for solving them. This led to many irresponsible statements coming out of the Duma, but it also weeded out many bad ideas before they became official.