In his state of the nation address on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a sweeping constitutional reform that would give him several options to retain power after 2024, when his term ends. The announcement led to the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s government, showing that a full reset of Russia’s governance system is underway — and that Medvedev won’t succeed Putin as president, as he did for one term in 2008.
Having spent the first hour of the 80-minute speech on demographics and the economy, Putin suddenly turned to the constitution. Most of his proposals would leave Russia, whose current constitution now enshrines near-dictatorial presidential powers, with a less powerful presidency — and a more limited choice of potential presidents.
First, Putin suggested that only people who have resided in Russia continuously for more than 25 years and who have never possessed a foreign passport or permanent residence permit should be allowed to run for president. The current version of the constitution says a second citizenship in no way limits a Russian’s rights.
Putin’s proposals would rule out a large number of wealthy and educated Russians. According to flawed official statistics, 543,000 Russians hold a second citizenship or a foreign residence permit. The reforms would also cut off the country’s huge emigre community, which the United Nations Population Division estimates at 10.5 million, the equivalent of some 7% of Russia’s population.
This is part of what Putin sees as a sovereignty-enhancing package: According to the Russian leader, lower-ranking public servants, such as the prime minister, ministry heads, governors and judges should be banned from holding dual citizenship and foreign residence permits. He also wants Russian laws to take priority over international conventions, treaties and court rulings. Today, the constitution proclaims the priority of international obligations, which results in a steady stream of adverse rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (last year’s decisions have cost Russia about $11.4 million in damages, but behind that relatively small amount is a string of political embarrassments) and some costly debacles in various economic tribunals, such as state-owned natural gas company Gazprom’s loss of $2.6 billion to Naftogaz, the owner of the Ukrainian gas transportation system. Putin wants to make it impossible for any outside actors — international courts, Russian emigres, foreign governments, Western educational institutions — to have any effect on Russia’s inner workings.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday opened the door to constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 if he chose to do so, despite saying he had misgivings about the legal amendments.
Putin, who in January unveiled a major shake-up of Russian politics and a constitutional overhaul, is required by the constitution to step down in 2024 when his second sequential and fourth presidential term ends.
But addressing the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Putin on Tuesday gave what he suggested was his reluctant blessing to a proposed change to the constitution that would formally reset his presidential term tally to zero.
“The proposal to remove restrictions for any person, including the incumbent president ... In principle, this option would be possible, but on one condition - if the constitutional court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the constitution,” Putin said.
The move, if adopted and backed in a nationwide vote on April, would allow him to serve another two back-to-back six year terms. If he chose to do that, and his health and electoral fortunes allowed, he could stay in office until 2036 at which point he would be 83.