As the countdown to the end of Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s presidential term is drawing closer, he has announced major changes. Even as Mr. Putin announced a non-binding plebiscite on these changes, the Russian political system remains a highly centralized presidential one.
- Putin has led the country for more than 20 years, the longest since Soviet authoritarian leader Josef Stalin.
- Since 1999, Putin has continuously been in power, either as prime minister or president. He was re-elected in March 2018 for another 6-year term, which expires in 2024.
- Under current law, the President is limited to two consecutive terms.
About the changes:
The changes are in three directions: constitutional changes; reshuffling his close aides and policymakers; a slew of economic and social measures that will impact the Russian economy and society.
- The powerful Russian security council has been given a new deputy chairmanship — the chair is the president. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s closest aide has been shifted to this newly created post.
- Russian legislature, the Duma, got more powers: In the original Constitution, the President alone nominated them. Now the Duma will have the power to endorse or reject the President’s choice. However, the President retains the right to suggest the names and dismiss them.
- Empowering the State Council: The State Council worked as an assembly of Governors from federal states which met irregularly with primarily consultative powers. This body now gets a constitutional status.
- Tackling major internal security threat: To address demographic decline but also the stagnating Russian economy, Mr. Putin announced measures that include:
- All low-income families with children under age seven will receive monthly cash handouts.
- All children till grade four in all Russian schools will get free lunch.
- All mothers after the birth of their first or second child will receive benefits and payments.
- Public spending and infrastructure projects to address poverty, decrease social tensions, reduce income gaps, improve health. This could stimulate the economy.
- Significance: Retaining control over the Russian Federation and strengthening the Russian state: Clearly, Mr. Putin continues to hold full control. But he is also making his legacy as a builder of constitutional institutions; by giving the Duma more powers.
- Putin remains popular with many Russians who believe his rule provides the country stability, but he is also criticized for silencing critics and the press.
- Criticism: He has been rightly critiqued for not building autonomous institutions, not considering a separation of powers, retaining a centralized federal system, controlling the press and promoting a crony capitalist clique.
- Challenges for Russia:
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the West see Russia as a major military threat and so Russia has to continue with a huge military-industrial complex.
- Russia has sanctions against it: Mr. Putin has had to weave relations with states that are willing to ignore these sanctions.
- Russia’s core interests in the west and central Asia as also in the east with China, India, and others have to be balanced.
At a time of right-wing populisms holding power and increasing control of institutions the world over, and at a time of declining multilateralism and new threats, Mr. Putin and Russia refuse to lie down and be walked over.
About Russia’s polity
- The Constitution of the Russian Federation is a written adopted and enacted constitution. Essentially the country is described as a federal presidential republic.
- An amendment proposal gets incorporated in the constitution only when at least 2/3rd of the Subjects (units) of the Russian Federation approved it in accordance with the special procedures laid down for the adoption of the federal constitutional laws by the Subjects of Russian Federation (Art 136).
Executive branch in Russia
- The Prime Minister is appointed by the President with the approval of the Duma and is first-in-line to the presidency in the case of the President’s death or resignation.
- Historically the role of Prime Minister has been very much subservient to that of the President.
- The constitution of 1993 provides strong powers for the President.
- The President is eligible for a second term but constitutionally he is barred from a third consecutive term.
Also read: Russian Government Resigns