A major development in Russian history, one that was de facto till very recently, is now de jure. By signing Monday’s critical law, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has arrogated to himself the authority to potentially hold on to power till 2036.
Not that this proposed fruition of his seemingly boundless ambition was unexpected; he has, in point of fact, formalised the constitutional changes that were endorsed in a vote on the 1st of July last year.
With this, Mr Putin has entrenched his authority as perhaps no other President has in the history of the Soviet Union or post-1991 Russia, the year when the geographical entity disintegrated with Mikhail Gorbachov at the helm.
Mr Putin has been in power for far longer than any Kremlin leader since the era of the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin. He now seems poised to surpass the heady tenure of even that iconic Soviet leader.
The 68-year-old President, who has been in power for decades, has said that he will decide later whether to run again in 2024, when his current six-year terms ends. The argument proffered has been geared to ensure his benefit. In his reckoning, “resetting the term-count” had become imperative to keep his lieutenants riveted to their work instead of what he called “darting their eyes in search of possible successors”.
It bears recall that the July 1 constitutional vote had included a provision that reset Mr Putin’s previous term limits, allowing him to run for President two more times. So if the next presidential election is held in 2024 as scheduled, again in 2030 and yet again in 2036, Mr Putin could be in the saddle for at least another 15 years from now. It is pretty obvious that he has taken recourse to constitutional amendments to achieve his ambition.
The amendments have emphasised the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlawed same-sex marriages, and mentioned “belief in God” as a core value.
Balloting continued for a week and concluded on July 1. Nearly 78 per cent of the voters approved the amendments. In the aftermath of the vote, Russian lawmakers have modified the national legislation, approving the relevant laws. The changes have caused a flutter in the political roost in a nation that was once known as the cradle of Communism. With the march of time, ideology has given way to chic consumerism.
The Opposition has criticised the constitutional vote, arguing that it was marred by widespread pressure on voters and other irregularities such as the lack of transparency and contrived hurdles that impeded independent monitoring. In the little over nine months since the vote, Russia’s most prominent Opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been imprisoned. Inherent in Vladimir Putin’s personality is a streak of authoritarianism (the plight of Navalny), when not expansionist design (as manifest in Ukraine).