Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin virtually built a back door in the new constitution at the last moment so that he could continue to govern. On Tuesday, the head of state performed surprisingly in the Duma, the Russian lower house. The MPs were sitting there at the second and decisive reading about the constitutional change initiated by Putin.
Just a few hours earlier, the Kremlin had sent the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who is now a Duma MP for the ruling party “United Russia”. She made two proposals to keep Putin in power.
Variant one: The limitation to two terms of office is completely removed from the constitution. Option two: Putin’s terms of office are canceled with the new constitution and, like all other citizens, he has the right to start again.
In his speech to the Duma, Putin initially rejected the abolition of the term limit. This may be necessary in times of political unrest and economic turbulence, since “stability” is more important than democratic freedoms.
But the constitutional changes should apply for at least “30 or 50 years”. “In the long term, the population needs guarantees that the authorities can be changed,” said Putin. He therefore rejects the deletion of the term limit.
What Putin denies others, he claims himself
But Putin claims for himself what he is denying future incumbents. Putin accepted Tereshkova’s proposal to annul his own term so that he could run again in 2024. “In principle, this variant would be possible,” he said. It would only have to examine the constitutional court whether such a clause does not contradict the spirit of the constitution.
In addition, the people would have to agree to the April 22 referendum, he added. Irony of fate: The date coincides with the 150th birthday of Vladimir Lenin, who established the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in Russia 100 years ago.
Most recently, Putin had always denied his interest in extending his reign in public appearances. Its constitutional changes served solely to improve Russia’s governability and had nothing to do with the desire to extend his reign. Even before the last election in 2018, he replied to the question of whether he wanted to come back as president in 2030: “It’s a bit ridiculous. Should I be sitting here around the age of 100? “
Now he has at least given himself the opportunity to remain in power until the age of 83, because by canceling his terms in office, he could theoretically start again not only in 2024 but also in 2030.
Constitutional Court is always loyal
It is practically impossible for the constitutional court to veto the change. Waleri Sorkin has headed the constitutional court since 2003 and has proven to be extremely loyal to the Kremlin.
Among other things, the Constitutional Court, under his leadership, approved the abolition of the governor elections and the non-admission of Alexei Navalny to the 2018 presidential election. In addition, the Constitutional Court allowed Russia not to comply with judgments by the European Court of Human Rights if they contradict the constitution. This affects, among other things, the billion dollar dispute over the Yukos legacy.
Approval of the constitutional change in the referendum is also considered certain. In order to get citizens to agree, many demands were written into the new constitution that should satisfy the nationalist-conservative majority. These include the mention of God, the establishment of marriage as a covenant between men and women, the ban on degrading Russia’s role in World War II, or the cession of territories.
More: Putin provides for old age with the constitutional change, says Handelsblatt correspondent André Ballin.