Staunton, January 18 – Vladimir Putin’s latest constitutional proposals are not an attempt by the Kremlin leader to retain power forever but rather “the beginning of his exit,” one that he wants to be slow and carefully managed, according to Sergey Tsyplayev, one of the authors of the 1993 basic law and a law professor at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service.
The constitutional specialist says that he “categorically does not agree that all that is going on is to allow him to remain in power as long as possible. Nothing interferes with Putin doing so now. We simply remove references about two terms in a row.” (mnews.world/ru/putin-hochet-ujti-no-medlenno-soavtor-konstitutsii-sergej-tsyplyaev-ob-initsiativah-prezidenta/).
What Putin wants to do with his constitutional changes is to create a situation in which he will be able to “leave slowly” and thus preserve “the smoothness” of the transition. “At the moment of exit of any authoritarian leaders there arise horrible perturbations, fights, and struggle for power.” Consequently, leaders need to make provisions so that these do not get out of hand.
What has happened in Kazakhstan shows how this can work. And Putin’s appointment of Dmitry Medvedev to be number two in the security council is part of this effort. That is “a purely symbolic position for Medvedev” but “the career of Dmitry Anatolyevich as a real politicians and potential aspirant for anything has ended.”
One of Russia’s key problems, Tsyplayev says, is that “with us, executive power is very weak” and the relations between the center and the federal subjects are problematic. That means that there is great concern about the risk that this or that institution such as the Federation Council or the State Council could become an independent political player.
That explains some of the indefiniteness about that institution, indefiniteness that will need to be clarified by the president in the future, the expert on constitutional law says. He makes two other points, one on the ways in which these reforms are being discussed and a second on the sources of strength and weakness of any constitution.
Regarding the first, Tsyplayev says that the procedure to amend the constitution is “very simple” and does not require the convention of a Constitutional Assembly. The two houses of the federal assembly must approve a constitutional law proposed by the president and then it must be ratified by two-thirds of the parliaments of the federal subjects. That is all that is needed.
There is no need for a referendum legally in the current case and it isn’t required but might be used for political purposes, the legal specialist says. At the same time, Tsyplayev continues, the working group Putin has formed is not a substitute for a Constitutional Assembly. It is simply an advisory body.
Putin has the right to consult with anyone: he can “discuss things even with Donald Trump or Philipp Kirkorov. This is his right.” But the president is the one who will introduce a federal law to the parliament for approval because he has the right of legislative initiative. No advisory body has that power.
But Tsylayev makes another observation which may prove even more important. He says that “each redrawing of the Constitution undermines the strength of this building. If the Old and New Testaments had been constantly rewritten, no religion would have survived.” The basic law should be changed only “in case of extreme necessity.”
If it is treated as just another law that can be modified at will, then this will regardless of anything else “open a Pandora’s box” for the state and the country, the constitutional specialist says.