Vladimir Putin outlined a raft of proposed constitutional changes aimed at strengthening the powers of the parliament and other government bodies, fuelling speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for keeping power beyond the end of his current term in 2024.
The plans, announced unexpectedly at the end of his annual state-of-the-nation speech on Wednesday, come as Putin is widely expected to seek a way to hold onto control in some form beyond the constitutional limit at the end of his current term.
Putin hasn’t commented on his plans and his proposals didn’t include any major overhauls that would have created a new post for him. But the shifts could reduce the sweeping powers currently held by the president, potentially making the parliament and the State Council more influential.
“These are very serious changes to the political system,” Putin said.
Putin devoted most of his 80-minute speech to social issues, offering new benefits to stimulate the country’s falling birth rate and reverse the decline in its population. He reiterated pledges to speed economic growth and boost incomes, but offered few new proposals.
Foreign policy got relatively little attention, in contrast to the last two years, when Putin threatened new weapons deployments to counter the US and its allies.
The constitutional changes would be subject to a referendum before being approved, Putin said. They would include measures to allow the parliament greater say in approving the prime minister and cabinet officials.
The State Council, now a largely ceremonial body, would get more clearly defined powers written into the constitution.
“Putin is making proposals related to the power transition,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “Russia is now a super-presidential republic and the transformation could be towards just a presidential republic, where the powers of the head of state will be more limited by the parliament.”
“What place Putin will take, what the format of the transition will be isn’t clear,” he added.
In addition, the current ban on the same person serving more than two consecutive presidential terms could be broadened to cover two terms even if they were separated in time. Putin had used that loophole to return to the presidency in 2012 after serving as prime minister, allowing him to serve a total of four presidential terms altogether.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, noted that the scale of the changes was greater than what had been discussed in the past. “The previous changes were small and targeted. The president proposed strengthening the sovereignty of our country.”
The referendum would be the first on such changes in Russia since 1993. It could come come as early as this year, according to a senior legislator cited by
Interfax. The changes also included a constitutional ban on holding foreign citizenship or residency for top officials, legislators and judges, while presidential candidates must have resided permanently in Russia for at least 25 years. Putin started the speech with a warning that a shrinking population is a threat to Russia’s future.