Putinism without Putin
The previous week, Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, surprised the international political world, announcing a constitutional reform that will be submitted to referendum before May 1, 2020, and whose main objective is to guarantee him a leading role, starting from of 2024, the year in which he will finish his term.
What will Mr. Putin do once he leaves the presidency? That is undoubtedly the biggest question that raised his announcement of changes. In principle, it is assumed that it seeks to generate a structure for him to manage power without requiring his daily participation, which is already beginning to be known as Putinism without Putin. The idea is to guarantee the continuity of the ruling elite in a context where Vladimir Putin has the last word.
Here’s a brief summary of the proposed constitutional changes that sparked the talking about the Russian President and the future of his legacy:
Grant to the lower house of the Russian parliament (the Duma) the authority to appoint the prime minister, his federal deputies and cabinet ministers. Prohibit the president from rejecting these nominations. This change restores powers to the legislative power, and strengthens the position of the political party that exercises the parliamentary majority, which is today United Russia, Putin's political platform. However, the president of the Russian Federation continues to define the activities and priorities of the government, and retains the power to remove the prime minister and his ministers; maintains control over the armed forces and the justice system thus preventing Russia from becoming a strong parliamentary republic, which is one of Vladimir Putin's greatest fears.
Limit the exercise of the presidency to two terms, whether or not consecutive. The current constitution does not prevent the presidential re-election on multiple occasions, as long as they are not consecutive.
Presidential candidates may not have a second citizenship and must have lived at least 25 years in the country to be eligible for that position. With this change, Putin hopes to annul contestants, particularly from opposition parties, who for fear of repression have made part of his political life outside of Russia.
The Russian Constitution must take precedence over international treaties. This constitutional reform wants to avoid the remote possibility that tomorrow, international agreements or affiliations to supranational bodies impose commitments or restrictions similar to those experienced by the members of the European Union and that are not liked by those politicians who wish to manage “strong and autonomous” sovereign states such as Putin or the militants of the British right.
Convert the State Council, the advisory body of Putin that he established when he was elected president for the first time in 2000, into an official governing body. By forming the governors of the Russian Federation part of this council seeks to increase their participation in federal decisions, giving a space for the country's diversity to manifest itself and Putin a platform to continue exercising control by presiding over that council.
Prohibit legislators, cabinet ministers, judges and other federal-level officials from holding a second citizenship or permanent residence abroad. As in the case of presidential candidates, it is a mechanism to annul uncomfortable political actors.
Grant senators the authority to consult with the President on the appointment of the heads of all security agencies.
Grant senators the power to dismiss judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court to submit "inappropriate" behavior according to the proposal of the president. This constitutional change opens the possibility of increased abuses by politicians since the inappropriate term is quite ambiguous.
Guarantee the Constitutional Court the authority to review the bills at the request of the president before the head of state signs them.
Set the minimum wage of Russia at or above the poverty line and adjust pensions to annual inflation. This constitutional change seeks to respond to one of the great criticisms of Putin's management, which is not having achieved improvements in the living conditions of the population after almost 20 years in the exercise of power.
How is Vladimir Putin projected in the future if these constitutional changes are implemented? As a new father of the Russian homeland. By promoting the separation of executive and legislative powers, limiting the presidential re-election and creating restrictions to keep his political enemies away from reaching the power, Putin is preventing someone from displace him, someone that could emerge from either inside or outside the political elites he created.
To be the father of the country is not necessary to be president, it is enough to control the institutions where the power resides, and in this case it is the State Council, which is a multiregional entity where all the interest groups of the Russian Federation converge.
What does a father of the country do? He delegates the daily management of the country and is dedicated to playing international geopolitical games, and trying to shield his legacy, which in the case of Putin is to recover the tsarist dream of being a strong and relevant nation, and with the possibility of triggering and vetoing political changes within its area of influence.