RUSSIA’S CONSTITUTIONAL SHAKEUP
By Donnelly McCleland
In a unanimous move in the State Duma [Russia’s Parliament], lawmakers backed a bill seeking to overhaul several articles of the constitution, just a week after President Putin proposed major amendments to the law including about his own post. Proposed by Vladimir Putin in his annual state of the nation address, the changes seek to give more powers to parliament, which will be able to pick the prime minister. The premier’s cabinet picks, currently not requiring a nod from MPs, would require parliamentary confirmation and could not be rejected by the president. (RT)
Russia’s radical constitutional shakeup
On 15 January, during his state of the nation address, President Putin proposed a range of constitutional changes. These included increasing the powers of parliament and the Cabinet, allowing lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members – a right currently belonging to the president. He argued, however, that the president should retain the right to dismiss the prime minister and Cabinet ministers; while stressing that the president should have the power to name top defence and security officials.
Mr Putin’s proposals also focussed on limiting the president’s overall tenure to only two terms (he is currently serving his fourth term); the individual would also be required to have lived 25 consecutive years in Russia (up from the current 10), and to have never obtained foreign citizenship or a residence permit. There would also be stricter background requirements for top officials and MPs.
The proposed changes also seek to cement the priority of Russian law over international treaties and obligations. According to the President (as reported by the Russian Legal Information Agency): “The amendments are aimed to further the development of Russia as a social welfare state governed by the rule of law, as well as to achieve higher efficiency of its national institutions, strengthen the role played by its civil society, political parties, and Russia’s regions in working out most important decisions concerning the development of the state.” Mr Putin went on to stress that “Russia was to remain a Presidential republic, but a more open one, where the significance of its Parliament was to grow, whereas interrelations of lawmakers with the government were to be strengthened.” He also said that there should be “the broadest possible public discussion” of the suggested changes, and that the public should have an opportunity to vote on them.
Mr Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953. Under the current law, Mr Putin must step down in 2024 after his current term ends.
Prime Minister’s resignation and new appointment
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (together with the entire Cabinet) resigned his post after Mr Putin announced the proposed constitutional amendments. The Kremlin later announced that Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin was nominated to replace Mr Medvedev. Russia’s new Prime Minister may have had a low profile before his surprise appointment, but the 53-year old – who has been credited with transforming Russia’s tax service over the last decade – had a reputation among business leaders as one of the country’s most effective, popular and smart bureaucrats, long before Mr Putin picked him to replace Dmitry Medvedev. It appears that Mr Putin’s choice of Mr Mishustin reflects his concerns about Russia’s declining standard of living, which has contributed to sporadic unrest over the past year.
The unexpected constitutional changes, abrupt resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet, together with the speed at which the draft bill has been presented to the Duma for consideration, has led to widespread speculation both domestically and abroad. But, The Independent points out: “At first, the proposed constitutional changes appeared to be a thinly disguised attempt by Vladimir Putin to hold on to power beyond his term limit in 2024. But developments since then have complicated such an easy interpretation.” Two key areas have prompted some experts to pause and reassess their initial thoughts: one is the apparent haste which is not in keeping with Mr Putin’s traditional approach of keeping a decision to the last moment; and the second is the eventual wording of the amendments which do not offer any obvious constitutional short circuit for Mr Putin to exercise formal power outside the presidency.
More cautious analysts have conceded that Mr Putin will continue to keep his cards close to his chest and only in time will his future plans become more evident.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
INcontext has a close relationship with two foreign Christian workers who have been living and working in Russia for numerous years and as such their perspective on these recent developments is valuable and helpful in providing an ‘insider’ view.
This situation in Russian can surely be described from different perspectives: one is that this is a great move from Mr Putin and the government, to set the country up for long-term stability. Mr Medvedev in his term as prime minister has been tasked to take care of several financial reforms in Russia, but he has not been very decisive and effective. The new prime minister is a financial expert and thus in a better position to steer the country into economic growth (which is currently a big focus in Russia). Some further reforms proposed, for example, is to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, raise the birth rate to grow the population (for which they want to use financial encouragement to help families have more children) – thus clearly a financial expert can play a key role to see these reforms be effective in growing the nation and the economy. Financial reforms need a financial expert, like the new prime minister. The whole government agreed with this move, showing it clearly by their actions to resign like one man, being willing to take these steps to ensure reform.
The majority of Russians trust Mr Putin and the government and believe that he has their best in mind! There are obviously those who one moment praise him, and the next moment want him gone – it all depends on where the influence comes from.
As Christians we should refrain from making premature judgements and rather commit to pray for Mr Putin and the government, as the Bible clearly instructs us to do. This is a key time of reform, and we should pray for God to steer the hearts of the ‘kings’ to fulfil His plan for Russia.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For wisdom for Mr Putin, Mr Mishustin and the government, as they implement constitutional changes, that it will be to the benefit of their people
- For the Church in Russia to utilise opportunities that arise during these times of uncertainty
- For believers to be encouraged in their witness to family and friends