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Is Putin attempting to carve out a 'father of the nation' role?

International Desk |
Update: 2020-01-16 12:50:41 PM
Is Putin attempting to carve out a 'father of the nation' role?
Putin in annual address to parliament

In his annual address to parliament, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that could see him extend his hold on power.

Here are five things to know:

What has happened?

In a move that has surprised Russians and international observers, the Russian prime minister and government resigned on Wednesday as Putin proposed sweeping constitutional changes.

Dmitry Medvedev , the outgoing prime minister who had served for eight years, said government officials quit to give Putin room to carry out the changes he wants to make.

Less than three hours later, Putin named federal tax chief Mikhail Mishustin, 53, a relatively unknown technocrat, as the new prime minister.

In his annual address to parliament, Putin said he wanted to put an "entire package of proposed amendments" to a referendum.

Among his proposals, he suggested:

Transferring more power to parliament by allowing lawmakers to name prime ministers and cabinet members (currently the president makes these appointments)

Amending how heads of security agencies are appointed to allow the president to decide after consulting the Federation Council (the upper house of Russia's Federal Assembly)

"Enshrining" the State Council, a body that advises the president

Lifting the residency requirements for presidential candidates from 10 years to 25

Preventing presidential candidates who have held foreign residency in the past, not just at election time

Allowing the Russian constitutional court to review whether laws comply with the constitution before the president signs them

Preventing international law from being prioritised over Russian law

Prohibiting civil servants from holding foreign citizenship

Adding a provision to keep minimum wage and pensions above the poverty line

Why has Putin done this?

Observers have been looking for clues as to how Putin might reform the political system before 2024, when his term ends.

" All last year, the question of what would happen in 2024 when Putin's presidential term ends became the obsession of the Moscow chattering classes, and so at last we seem to have an answer," Mark Galeotti, honorary professor at University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, told Al Jazeera.

"He is tired of the job of actually running the country, but can't simply step down - in such a system, your status, your legacy and your security all depend on retaining some power. So, he will weaken the presidency and shift more powers to the prime minister, so they can be counterweights to each other, while creating a new 'father of the nation' role, probably as chairman of a revamped State Council.

"It's not about staying in power. If he just wanted to remain president, he could easily just change the constitution to waive term limits. It's about creating a form of political retirement that continues to provide him with security and relevance."

Putin said the measures would "increase the role of parliament and parliamentary parties, powers and independence of the prime minister and all cabinet members ".

He added that Russia should remain a "strong presidential republic".

While he promised that he would not seek a third term, something that is currently unconstitutional, analysts largely agreed that Putin is trying to extend his own influence beyond his presidential term.

He could be trying to carve out a new role for himself - one he can fill when he steps down at age 71.


BDST; 1250 HRS, JAN 16, 2020

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