Putin can now remain president for a long time

Putin can now remain president for a long time

While Russian voters were voting on the newfang, Vladimir Putin inaugurated a new World War II memorial in Rzhev. It is 25 meters high and shows a soldier with a PPSh-41 machine gun, whose dying body – as in a famous poem by Rasul Gamzatov – turns into cranes flying away. Photo: Kremlin. License: CC BY 3.0

In Russia, the constitutional reform was accepted in a referendum

In Russia, 206 changes to the catchment area were approved by the people in a referendum. According to the figures released this morning by the electoral commission, a majority of 77.92 percent of the participants voted for. 21.27 percent explicitly voted against it.

65.28 percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum. In order to achieve the highest possible turnout, the national leadership had advertised to go to the polls through company management and with celebrities. In addition, it was possible to take part in prize competitions in which, among other things, apartments and cars could be won.

The fact that the referendum ran for more than seven days was explained by the Corona epidemic: The longer opening of the pubs was intended to avoid super-spreading events with large gatherings of people in a confined space. The epidemic was also the reason that the date of the referendum of 22. April was postponed until the summer.

Signals of virtue

The agreements signed on 15. The January reform of the Constitution, which Vladimir Putin had been pushing for, included a clarification that Russian Constitution takes precedence over international treaties and other Russian legal norms. If they contradict the Russian Constitution, they are invalid. This is not an unusual arrangement in international comparison: in Germany, too, the Federal Constitutional Court regularly examines EU regulations for their compatibility with the Basic Law.

In addition, the Russian constitution guarantees a minimum wage and a regular increase in pensions after the change. Beyond that one has virtue signals like the "important priority" of children and the "Protection of historical truth" The reform package includes a number of measures designed to appeal to more emotionally oriented citizens. The stipulation that no Russian territory may be relinquished seems to have been aimed primarily at Crimea, but it could also complicate the dispute over the Kuril Islands (cf. Putin offers peace treaty to Japan).

President until 2036?

The changes that generated by far the most media attention concern the Russian presidential office. When Putin unveiled his plans for constitutional reform in January, the main focus was on including the restriction "as a result" from the rule that "the same person would not hold the presidency for more than two terms in a row" may, shall be removed. By this deletion, Putin apparently ruled out repeating the 2008 exchange of offices after his current term expires in 2024 (cf. Russia’s government restructuring).

At that time, he switched to the office of prime minister after two terms as state president. For the next four years, Dmitry Medvedev was president, until he gave the post back to Putin in 2012, became prime minister again, and extended the term of office for presidents from four to six years.

As a result, observers speculated whether the 71-year-old, who will be 71 when his current term expires, has his eye on another post – such as one on the State Council of Regional Governors (whose role will be enshrined in the new constitution) or as head of a union of Russia and Belarus.

However, during the debate in the Parliament, in a thicket of almost 400 amendments reminiscent of the EU Parliament, it crystallized that Putin will in all likelihood remain President even after 2024. Officially, the proposal for creating the conditions for this was not made by him, but by Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman in space, who is now a deputy of his United Russia party.

She argued that, since the office of the president in the new constitution was newly tailored, the term limits should not include those in the old – differently tailored – office of the president. Thus, the current president can be re-elected in 2024 and 2030. In 2036, at the end of his second paid term, he would be 84 years old (cf. Putin sets term numerator to zero).

In the new division of powers and responsibilities that Tereshkova argued, the Russian president no longer appoints the prime minister and his ministers (who will then be appointed by parliament), but he has the right to dismiss prime ministers and ministers, to set priorities, and to assign tasks. He has a say in the selection of important prosecutors as well as in the selection of judges and members of the Council of State. He should also have the supreme power of selection for foreign and defense policy and for the military, secret services and police. Putin himself said that he was "deeply convinced that a strong prasidial power is absolutely necessary for Russia". Otherwise there would be "Risk of dual power". The prasidial system, however, must be combined with transparent, competitive elections for citizens "always have an alternative".

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