Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in power since 1999, alternating terms between Prime Minister and President to comply with the nation’s constitution. His fourth presidential term began in May 2018 and is set to end in 2024.
This week, with a near-unanimous vote, Russian lawmakers approved constitutional changes to keep Putin in power past the 2024 limit. The changes will also eliminate a lame duck period, helping Putin to reassure political elites already looking for a successor.
“The president is a guarantor of security of our state, its internal stability and evolutionary development…We have had enough revolutions,” said Putin, adding that Russia “lacks [the] conditions necessary for parliament-led democracy.”
The constitutional reform bill essentially resets Putin’s term limits, allowing him to run in the next two presidential elections. If the changes are approved by a nationwide vote (scheduled for April 22nd) and if Putin wins the next two elections, he could end up in power until 2036 (at which time he would be 83 years old). This would make him ruler of Russia for 36 years, even longer than Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
“Putin will stay in power and in his present position for life,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “As for the future of Russian democracy, we will need to wait til after Putin passes from the stage.”
Opposition groups called for rallies on March 21st to protest the constitutional changes, prompting officials in Moscow to announce a temporary ban on all outdoor gatherings with an attendance of more than 5,000 people.
Authorities said the ban was designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but protestors weren’t fooled.
“Our position is that if the coronavirus is such a dangerous threat, then they should cancel the vote [on the constitutional reform], as it can expose millions of people to infection,” said activist Mikhail Svetov. “And if it is not that dangerous, then rallies should be allowed.”
In addition to resetting Putin’s term limit, the constitutional reform bill also strengthens the presidency, outlaws same-sex marriage, and prioritizes Russian law over international agreements.
Author’s Note: Putin is following in the footsteps of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who in 2017 abolished presidential term limits and became dictator for life.
Editor’s Note: Xi and Putin have been on the world stage for a long time. Imagine having someone across the negotiating table from one of them with no experience like Bernie Sanders, or someone whose mind is slipping like Joe Biden. We would be toast.