Staunton, July 7 – Most analyses of the amendments to the constitution last year have reduced their meaning to the nullification of presidential terms so that Vladimir Putin can serve until 2036. But in fact, the 4,000 words of the 46 changes in the basic law have created a new constitutional system, one that contains within itself serious risks, Konstantin Gaaze says.
The focus on the amendments allowing Putin to serve until 84 has led many to conclude that “nothing else was changed,” the Moscow sociologist and commentator says. But in fact, it is now clear that the amendments have changed the Russian political system in a large number of ways and introduced new risks as well (liberal.ru/defense-of-democracy/prezidentskaya-vlast-po-novoj-konstituczii).
In a survey of these changes for the Liberal Foundation portal, Gaaze focuses his attention on the ways in which the amendments have changed the relationship between the president and the government and how those changes create conditions that under certain circumstances can be extremely dangerous.
Since the amendments were adopted, people in the government with whom Gaaze has spoken refer to the prime minister as “the deputy president in the government.’” That means that “the premier no longer represents a collegial organ of executive power in its relations with the chief of state and other branches of power.”
Instead, “everything is just the reverse. [The prime minister now] represents the chief of state in the collegial organ of executive power and only there,” the sociologist says. The president can appoint and remove individual members of the government regardless of the premier’s views.
And “this system, if one may call it that, throws the executive authorities back 300 years into the past, to a time when the collegiums and first minister of the crown were not bureaucrats in the serve of an abstract government prince but subjects of the monarch who delegated to them a small piece of his personal (and unlimited) power.”
Under this new arrangement, or at least new in the sense of being formalized in the constitution. Putin “on the one hand seeks to make all decisions but on the other often slows the process down..” The 1993 constitution represented a balance between the aspirations of the president and the arguments of constitutional lawyers. The 2020 amendments end that.
In sum, the 2020 Constitution has changed the balance of political power in Russia.” The formal government has been stripped of any defense of its own procedures and become little more than the executor of the wishes of the president.
One is compelled to ask, Gaaze continues, “is this construction stable,” a question of particular urgency since the amendments changed parts of the constitution but not all of it and collisions may arise from that reality. The president can name anyone he wants as prime minister and then the latter could replace him in the event of his exit.
That may guarantee continuity of a kind but it further detaches the executive presidency from the rest of the political superstructure and from the population. And the president’s powers open the way to an explosion of favoritism as the basis for preferment in ministries and other agencies, again protecting the current ruler but not the system as such.
But what is perhaps the greatest danger, Gaaze suggests, is that the amendments have transformed the Russian state “into a complex ensemble of officials with emergency powers” given in each case by the president, something that guarantees there will be conflicts among them without any possibility of resolution below the highest levels.