After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a series of significant constitutional changes in his state of nation address and the entire Russian Cabinet including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s resigned, things have left the Russian political elite in a lurch.
President Putin’s appointment of the new executive Cabinet on the recommendation of the new appointee to the office of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who headed Russia’s tax service, has brought in changes concerning the old political elite. The key ministers considered the backbone of Russia’s military, foreign policy and security have been retained amidst the reshuffle while Dmitry Medvedev was announced as the Deputy Chair of the Kremlin’s powerful Security Council.
The constitutional amendments have been aimed at strengthening the position of Parliament by transitioning some of the Presidential powers to Duma (Russian Parliament). While the President has retained the power related to the appointment and dismissal of Prime Minister, and the executive as well as naming the top security and defense officials of the country, the Federation Council (Upper Chamber) will be considered for the President’s nomination for the defense and security officials.
Under the new changes proposed the President’s candidate, the office of Prime Minister will need to receive a formal confirmation by the Duma and also the cabinet appointments will also be subjected to the approval of Duma.
The amendments also aim to bolster the position of State Council, an advisory body of State Governors given the mandate of “safeguarding coordinated functioning and cooperation of state organs.” It is a startling fact that a majority of Russians are not aware of this body.
President Putin wishes to equip the council with substantial authority and mandate under the proposed amendments. Many geo-political analysts point to the fact that real power could now be vested in the State Council, where Putin could land himself in a spot after end of Presidency term in 2024.
A separate legislation may be required to deal with prerogatives of the State Council, whose mention cannot be traced to the Constitution. However, the symbolic body may well be entrusted with executive authority such as setting out the main priorities of defense and foreign policy.
All these constitutional amendments would also be subjected to a referendum once they are passed by Duma as highlighted by President Putin in his state address.
The previous government had grown highly unpopular in the political circles of Moscow as well as among the common masses given their lack of firm implementation of national development strategy aimed at making Russia, the fifth largest economy, announced by Putin last year.
Also the new Cabinet headed by Mishustin will have a tough task ahead of them aimed at boosting the Russian economy and infusion of fresh state led investment into the economy, at a time when the educated Russians are getting more and more vocal about the economic difficulties. The national development strategy announced by Putin last fiscal year made massive investment commitments from the state in infrastructure projects such as road, railways, ports, etc. to achieve the target of double growth rate for Russian economy amidst the EU-US sanctions.
Andry Belousov has been given the charge of Economic Development Ministry under the new Cabinet and is an ardent advocate of increased government spending and investment while appointment of Mishustin to the office of Prime Minister, former head of Russia’s tax service sends down a strong commitment to the common masses for implementation of ambitious national development strategy which forms the core of Mr Putin’s agenda.
The swiftness with which the working group on constitutional reforms came up with a Bill and submit it to Duma for its consideration speaks volume about the preparedness of the administration to implement them. Duma unanimously approved the constitutional amendment while a second voting is scheduled on February 11.
Medvedev, considered the closest ally of Putin, amended the Constitution in the past to extend the Presidential term to six years and Putin became a direct benificiary of this with his return to power in Kremlin. His second Presidency term is due to end in 2024.
Analysts and strategists point out to the fact that the long term dominance of Putin in the Russian Republic seriously deprives the Duma and the Federation Council any opportunity of bringing a counter weight to Putin’s personality.
Putin is likely to follow the footsteps of Nasarbaev who stepped down from the office of Prime Minister of Kazakhstan last May but still continues to wield effective power and authority by holding an influential position in the Security Council.
The swiftness with which Putin has initiated the revamp of Kremlin’s institutions through transition of power from President to Parliament and Duma’s quick approval will cement his authority further, over Moscow.