Vladimir Putin pushes ahead with Russia shake-up, as some fear he plans to be ‘leader for life’
- Changes will limit power of presidency, a post Putin is expected to step down from in 2024, in what critics call a ‘constitutional coup’
- Surprise reforms unveiled last week prompted resignation of PM Dmitry Medvedev and his government
President Vladimir Putin moved quickly on Monday to push through an overhaul of Russia’s political system that has fuelled speculation over his ambitions after his term expires.
Less than a week after announcing the reforms that unleashed a political storm in Russia, Putin submitted the package of constitutional amendments to lawmakers.
The bill proposes changes that would weaken the presidency by transferring some powers to parliament and state bodies including the State Council.
The overhaul would transform the State Council from an advisory body to an organ – potentially headed by Putin – that would shape domestic and foreign policy as well as social and economic development, according to the amendments.
The State Duma’s legislative committee is to discuss the package on Tuesday, and the lower house will decide Wednesday when to debate the amendments, speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said.
He billed the amendments as a “historic” decision by Putin – whose fourth term in the Kremlin expires in 2024 – to share some of his powers with political parties and civil society.
The draft was presented just days after a group of experts and popular figures was set up to develop the proposals and before a public vote on the amendments that Putin promised last week.
Putin, who first became president 20 years ago, announced the proposed changes in a state of the nation address last Wednesday, prompting the government of his loyal lieutenant Dmitry Medvedev to resign.
The reforms include giving parliament the power to name the prime minister and limit the president to only two terms in total, instead of two successive terms.
Critics have accused Putin, 67, of orchestrating a “constitutional coup” and seeking to fast-track changes to the country’s political system without going through proper procedures.
As part of the shake-up among top officials, Putin also on Monday removed the powerful Prosecutor General Yury Chaika – who took office in 2006 – and nominated a replacement.
“Things have started moving very quickly. The stakes are very high,” said political analyst and former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky.
Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accused Putin of wanting to remain “leader for life” and said the opposition would come out with a counter-plan in the coming weeks.
“No one knows what the heck Putin is going to pull off to remain in power forever,” Navalny said on Monday.
“I am absolutely sure that Putin, too, does not fully understand what he is doing.”
Navalny’s ally Ilya Yashin said he and other opposition leaders wanted to stage a major rally on February 29.
Navalny has emerged as the leader of the Russian opposition, mustering huge protests in 2011-12 after Putin announced he would return to the presidency following four years as prime minister.
Those protests were put down but tens of thousands of people again took to the streets of Moscow last summer to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections.
Those rallies also led to wide-scale arrests and long jail terms for a number of demonstrators.
In the elections for Moscow parliament last September, the ruling party lost almost a third of its seats after Navalny instructed his supporters to vote strategically – a tactic he could employ again next year when Russia is due to hold parliamentary elections.