Constitutional change in Russia: More Putin, or preparing for post-Putin?

27-05-2020

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule the country from behind the scenes, beyond 2024. Events took an unexpected turn in March 2020, when lawmaker and former cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, tabled a last-minute amendment. Her proposal envisaged re-setting the clock for presidential terms, allowing Putin to stay on as president for another 12 years, should he choose to do so. Shortly afterwards, the bill was rubber-stamped by both houses of the federal parliament, and all of Russia's 85 regional parliaments. Altogether, the amendments revise nearly one-third of the Constitution's 137 articles. Apart from presidential term limits, they also clarify the role of Russia's main institutions, with some additional powers for the parliament. Reflecting growing nationalism and suspicions of liberal Western influences, other provisions bar senior government figures from holding foreign citizenship or bank accounts, give the Constitution primacy over decisions made by international bodies, and affirm traditional values. Socioeconomic changes include annual indexation of pensions and a guarantee that the minimum wage will not fall below the poverty threshold. Before they can come into effect, the amendments must first be approved by a nationwide vote on a date yet to be scheduled. Surveys suggest that public opinion is divided on the changes; as the economy deteriorates due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a growing risk of a 'no' vote, which would be an unprecedented setback for Putin.

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule the country from behind the scenes, beyond 2024. Events took an unexpected turn in March 2020, when lawmaker and former cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, tabled a last-minute amendment. Her proposal envisaged re-setting the clock for presidential terms, allowing Putin to stay on as president for another 12 years, should he choose to do so. Shortly afterwards, the bill was rubber-stamped by both houses of the federal parliament, and all of Russia's 85 regional parliaments. Altogether, the amendments revise nearly one-third of the Constitution's 137 articles. Apart from presidential term limits, they also clarify the role of Russia's main institutions, with some additional powers for the parliament. Reflecting growing nationalism and suspicions of liberal Western influences, other provisions bar senior government figures from holding foreign citizenship or bank accounts, give the Constitution primacy over decisions made by international bodies, and affirm traditional values. Socioeconomic changes include annual indexation of pensions and a guarantee that the minimum wage will not fall below the poverty threshold. Before they can come into effect, the amendments must first be approved by a nationwide vote on a date yet to be scheduled. Surveys suggest that public opinion is divided on the changes; as the economy deteriorates due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a growing risk of a 'no' vote, which would be an unprecedented setback for Putin.