by Arthur F. Beaugeard
Russia’s State Duma, its lower house of parliament, has proposed a bill that would reduce presidential term limits to zero, allowing Vladimir Putin to run for another presidential term in 2024, when his 6-year term is set to expire. Already the longest reigning Russian since Stalin, these new reforms could cause him to surpass Stalin’s 24-year rule.
Putin supported eliminating term limits for himself. He said of term limits to the State Duma that “When a country is going through such upheavals and such difficulties, stability must be more important and must be given priority.” The upheaval Putin speaks of could be simultaneously referencing the collapse in Russia’s stock market caused by a quarrel over oil with Saudi Arabia and fears of the Coronavirus.
However, Putin also stated that in the “long term, society must have guarantees for the regular changes of power, this is why I do not believe it is viable to delete the restriction on the number of presidential terms from the constitution. I have no doubt that the day will come when the supreme, presidential power in Russia will not be so personified…” signalling his support for the bill but only for himself, as a short term plan to keep Russia stable.
The amendment, which was put forth by the Duma’s first female member, Valentina Tereshkova, was passed in minutes. She herself echoed the sentiment that “This will be stabilizing for our society.”
Experts say that although Putin will need the approval of the Constitutional Court of Russia and of the general population by way of a referendum on April 22nd, the exceedingly popular Putin will have no trouble brushing off these obstacles. Yvgeny Minchenko has said that the Constitutional Court, which has long been viewed as the Kremlin’s puppet by critics, will easily pass the bill. The former KGB agent has effectively been in control of the country since 2000.
Makym Erastavi, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council, noted that Putin is very good at seizing opportunities, likely taking this moment to inch closer towards being president for life “because of the virus, because of the crisis, because of the rising instability.”
Speaking of the virus and the “rising instability”, all gatherings of 5,000 people or more have been banned, which is convenient for Putin as it thwarts the pro-democracy protesters who frequently decry him. 45% of Russians want Putin to stay in power after 2024, 44% want him to retire, and the rest remain undecided.
David Szakonyi, a Russia analyst at Washington State University, says the world is taken aback at the directness of Putin’s bid to retain power, as most expected him to respect the constitution and hold on to his power in some other way. Angela Stent of Georgetown University has stated that Putin does not want to be seen by the Russian people as just “another Central Asian or African dictator” but remarks how Putin has shed the pretense of looking more democratic as he had done in the past, likely because the world is panicking over the COVID-19 outbreak and does not have time to scrutinize Putin.
At the end of his speech to the Duma, he “I’m sure that together, we will do many more great things, at least until 2024, and then we will see.”
Alexei Navalny, realizing that there is not enough time for the opposition that he leads to organize a defense against Putin’s onslaught for the big vote on April 22nd, merely tweeted: “All is clear, Putin will be president for life.”
Kirby, Jen. “Russia’s Vladimir Putin Just Got One Step Closer to Being President for Life.” Vox, Vox, 10 Mar. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/3/10/21173493/putin-russia-president-term-limits-coronavirus.
Gershkovich, Evan. “’President for Life’: Putin Opens Door to Extending Rule until 2036.” The Moscow Times, The Moscow Times, 11 Mar. 2020, www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/10/president-for-life-putin-opens-door-to-extending-rule-until-2036-a69576.