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Commentary: Russian government resignation throws spotlight on Putin’s succession plans

SYDNEY: News came from Moscow that the Russian government had resigned, followed by the announcement that President Vladimir Putin would be recommending the current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, be replaced by the head of the tax office, Mikhail Mishustin.

In announcing the governments resignation, Medvedev hinted that their resignation was to facilitate the progression of the proposed constitutional reforms.

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President Putin had announced a series of proposed changes to the constitution to be placed before the people in a future referendum, prior to these resignations.

READ: How Putin's shake-up of Russian politics could pan out

WHAT CHANGES DID PUTIN PROPOSE?

Among others, Putin proposed six key changes to the constitution.

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First, international law should apply in Russia only if it does not contradict the constitution or restrict peoples rights and freedoms. This, he said, was a question of sovereignty.

Second, leading political figures should not have foreign citizenship or the right to live permanently in another state. As well as these qualifications, the president must have lived in Russia for the last 25 years.

Third, the president should not be able to hold the presidency for two consecutive terms (although Putin said he doesnt think this is a matter of principle).

Fourth, the prime minister and all ministers should be appointed by the State Duma (Russia's parliament) instead of the president, who would have no right to reject those appointments.

Fifth, the role of the State Council (an advisory body) should be expanded and strengthened.

Last but not least, the independence of judges should be enshrined and protected.

The most important of these proposed changes (along with that of judicial independence) is that of moving the power to form the government from the president into the legislature.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attend a meeting with members of the government in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2020. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

If this was done and a truly accountable form of government was established, it would be a major advance on how the system has worked up until now.

But in the same speech, Putin argued that Russia needed to remain a presidential, not a parliamentary, republic.

These two positions seem at odds with one another and a potential recipe for constitutional confusion.

WHY HAS PUTIN SUGGESTED THIS CHANGE?

One reason may be dissatisfaction with the governments performance. The implication from Putins speech, and from many other comments, is that both the governance of Russia and the current government have been deficient.

Governance is seen by Putin to be hampered by the lack of a direct constitutional line between president and ministers, and this would be resolved by making the prime minister the key person in the policy sphere rather than the president.

This would be facilitated by removing the presidents power to choose the identity of the prime minister and some ministers. The governments resignation could be seen as a response to the dissatisfaction with its performance.

READ: Commentary: Why Vladimir Putin is still genuinely popular in Russia

But also relevant is power politics. Putin is due to step down as president in 2024. Thoughts are already turning to the question of the succession, in particular, will Putin go, and if so, who will replace him?

The current Constitution forbids Putin from standing for another presidentRead More – Source