Staunton, June 17 – One provision of the constitutional amendments that has attracted relatively little attention is a change in the relationship between the president and the Duma as far as the approval of a new prime minister and his deputies is concerned, Ivan Preobrazhensky points out.
Under the existing rules, the president nominates the prime minister and the Duma confirms him but if it fails to do so three times, the president must prorogue the parliament and call for new elections. The prime minster at least nominally also appoints his deputies, the Russian commentator notes (dw.com/ru/комментарий-кремль-опасается-потерять-контроль-над-госдумой/a-53825658).
But if Putin’s amendments are approved and go into force, then the president himself can confirm the prime minster by himself and name his deputies if the parliamentarians vote them down and need not call for new elections, a change that expands presidential control but reflects Putin’s fear that he could at some point lose control over the Duma.
This is why the Kremlin is so concerned about ensuring the amendments are approved by the referendum and also why Putin himself insisted in his recent interview on Russia 1 that the plebiscite will be a step toward democracy. He didn’t sound convincing and these changes help explain why.
Putin sought to assure everyone that “’the final decision on the head of government will be taken by the parliament.’ But this isn’t true,” Preobrazhensky says. “Democracy which Russia lacks is as different from the democratization Putin promises as a water pipe is from a sewage line,” to use an expression from the 1990s.
Under the terms of the amendments, “the prime minster will become a purely decorative figure,” and it is not surprising that Putin will be able to send him into retirement as well as separate ministers.” What this means is that under “the Putin constitution, “there are no irreplaceable people in power. Except, of course, one. And we all know his name.”
But this new arrangement reflects not Putin’s power or legitimacy. Instead, it shows that “the Kremlin is obviously concerned about losing control over the Duma or having a prime minister who does not want to be satisfied with the role of a technical executor.” And consequently, Putin is preparing a defense in depth against any such possibility.
According to Preobrazhensky, this new arrangement speaks to something else as well: it shows that the Putin constitution has been designed only for Putin and that when he is weakened or leaves office one way or another, Russia will get another constitution rather than continuing to live under one that worked only for him.