Staunton, September 24 – The situation with regard to the proroguing of the British Parliament by the government “very much resembles the legal and political situation with the ‘re-registration’ of Putin for a fourth and now already a fifth presidential term,” Vladimir Pastuhov says.
In both cases, the London-based Russian analyst says, those in power used a trick that Lenin summed as employing the forms of law in order to subvert them. The difference is that British courts ultimately blocked Boris Johnson from doing so while Russian institutions have not (echo.msk.ru/blog/pastuhov_v/2507507-echo/).
In 2012, the Russian political system faced a problem: the constitution specifies that a president cannot serve more than two terms in a row. “The Kremlin was able to interpret the Constitution so that the president could remain in power for an infinitely long period after each two terms in office” his place is formally filled by someone else.
No one bothered to hide that Putin and his replacement the first time around, Dmitry Medvedev, had a clear agreement that the latter would not only defer to Putin while he was prime minister but that Medvedev would yield after one term or possibly two. By this “trick,” the letter of the law was maintained but its substance was gutted.
In 2019, the British government faced a problem because of a deadlock over Brexit. The prime minister declared a brief technical suspension of its operation to allow the government to work on a position but then Johnson extended that suspension “for an unprecedentedly long time in order to paralyze the chance of deputies to block the exit of Britain from the EU.
Thus, Pastukhov says, the British government “used laws that allow for ‘a technical break’ as a political instrument in the struggle with the opposition to its own political course.” And it is that which makes these two otherwise dissimilar situations the same: In both, there was an attempt to use the letter of the law to subvert its substance and harm justice and democracy.”
In Russia, Putin focused on the words “in a row” to remain in power for an unlimited time. Johnson focused on “’prorogation’ in order to base his right to end political discussion until Brexit was accomplished and to limit the opportunity of parliament to interfere with the exit from the EU.”
The difference between Britain and France arose because “in Great Britain, the courts are really independent” while “in Russia they are one of ‘the departments’ of ‘the big government.’” The British courts examined the situation and concluded that Johnson had violated the law and ordered him to back down. The Russian courts simply rubberstamped what Putin wanted.
That contrast highlights an important reality, Pastukhov suggests. It is not that those in power in all countries are not disposed to play games with the law in the pursuit of their interests and goals. Rather it is the case that only those with strong legal systems backed by independent courts are in a position to prevent the law from becoming a sham.