By EMILIA GROWNEY
Vladimir Putin, after a year-long undertaking, signed the legislation allowing him to reset his presidential terms. The amendment to the Russian Constitution, made on March 10th, now allows Putin to run in the 2024 election with the possibility to lead for the next 12 years, until 2036, when he will be 83.
This refashioning of the Russian Constitution has ultimately made it possible for Putin to become Moscow’s ‘longest-serving’ leader since the Russian empire, overtaking Stalin’s 29-year long rule of the Soviet Union. What some deem as a ‘power grab’, signalling Putin’s fears of leaving himself and his family exposed once out of office, some deem as a much-needed extension of Putin’s 20-year presidency in order to successfully enact policy. Others deem it unconstitutional, as this promotes the longevity of what many believe to be an authoritarian regime.
The new law does not recognise presidential terms that occurred prior to it entering into force, effectively rendering Putin’s last four terms void. This means he will be able to start with a ‘clean slate’ come 2024. The constitutional alterations discussed provide the State Council with additional power in order to effectively implement a strategy to push Russia forward, power that Putin could seize post 2024.
The new Constitution will provide limitations that restrict the ability of Putin’s successor to extend the two-term limit, which would be refreshing after the issues Putin’s seemingly endless political career has caused. Furthermore, in hopes of compelling different sects, such as the Russian State Duma, to play a more cooperative role within Russia’s structure, there will be less responsibility placed onto the President.
Those in favour of Putin remaining in power argue that a transition to a new leader will expose instability stemming from political and socio-economic precariousness. However, prolonging Putin’s tenure will undeniably introduce greater and more disruptive long-term political challenges as he ages and risks himself having a health emergency while in office. Not to mention, there are significant ethical issues concerning a lack of political succession until 2036.
Public pressure and unrest are clearly revealed in a recent poll showing that a mere 27% of Russians want the incumbent to remain President after 2024. However, the amount of people wanting Putin to leave politics altogether also lies at 27%. What does this mean for democracy and the legitimacy of the government in Russia? Should Putin be postponing the inevitable when Russian voters are at odds with their views on Putin and his ability to carry Russia forward? To quote Russian liberals at the annual Moscow march in memory of Boris Nemstov, “we are talking about the usurpation of power by Vladimir Putin. A country where the government hasn’t changed for 20 years has no future”.
Furthermore, regardless of the numbers from a single poll, by the time a new leader is brought in, they will be facing significant economic burdens. We know instability will impact Russia once Putin is not in office anymore, so is it really wise to ‘ignore’ this for the time being, potentially risking greater damage for the country 12 years from now when there is considerable uncertainty of what the political climate will consist of? Covid-19 is the perfect example of something unpredictable occurring and wreaking political havoc and causing instability within Russia and globally.
Despite individuals’ concerns over how Putin would handle the economy if he carried through to 2036, he assures that there are significant plans for subsidised education, housing, and support for low-income families. Whether this is believable or even achievable is still up for debate, however, given the public’s trust in Putin lies at just 35%, the lowest it has been in 6 years, it is clear Russians are doubtful of Putin’s promises.
Nevertheless, Russia’s Finance Ministry estimates that its $150 billion wealth fund will permit a spending boom to support Putin’s plans. However, this still does not address how the country will manage in their precarious position, given how low oil prices have been, combined with an economic expansion of just 1.3% last year. This could potentially mean economic collapse if the government is ineffective in their projections, which could ruin the country and end Putin’s presidency regardless. As Kolesnikov, an analyst for Politico on domestic politics at Carnegie Centre Moscow, said: “We don’t see any signs of growth based on market competition.”
The one thing that remains clear in the midst of all this uncertainty is that Putin cannot remain the President of Russia forever. Sooner or later, the nation must face the consequences and subsequent instability that is sure to afflict them post-Putin.
Image: Unsplash (Valery Tenevoy)