First China, Now Russia: Kremlin Considers Changing Constitution To Extend Putin Presidency

After last March's not so shocking vote by China's National People's Congress to overwhelmingly pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate China's presidential term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power after his second term ends in 2023, it appears Russia is now inching toward the same scenario at a moment when, as one Moscow-based analyst put it, “The general sense is that there’s no one to replace Putin as the guarantor of the system.”

Just prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin getting elected to his final possible term allowed under the constitution last March, Newsweek announced The End of The Putin Era is in Sight — looking ahead to the end of his term in 2024 — but even this could be in doubt, perhaps predictably, as this week Russian parliament raised the possibility of altering the constitution as rumors continue to circulate that the Kremlin is seeking ways to keep the popular 66-year old multi-term leader in power.

Putin following his March 2018 reelection for 6 years, his fourth overall term, and his second consecutive, via AFP.

Currently the Russian constitution prohibits a president from being elected for more than two consecutive terms, but on Tuesday during a scripted meeting with Putin the speaker of Russia's parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, broached the issue, saying according to Bloomberg:

“There are questions in society, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Volodin said, addressing Putin in the respectful form, according to a Kremlin transcript. “This is the time when we could answer these questions, without in any way threatening the fundamental provisions” of the constitution, he added. “The law, even one like the Basic Law, isn’t dogma.”

Noting that the current constitution was drafted a quarter-century ago, Volodin continued, “That was a very difficult time. A time when the state stood on the edge of collapse, when social obligations weren’t fulfilled, when our citizens lost faith in the authorities.” He proposed the possibility of a formal review of the constitution overseen by Constitutional Court judges and a panel of experts to examine “how the Constitution and the norms of development of the Constitution suit the tenets that were passed.”

During the meeting Putin didn't appear to give comment in response to the proposal, but it's being widely viewed as the first subtle opening to a process Putin will give a quiet nod to, and analysts suggest a constitutional change could be easily accomplished with the backing of the president. 

When asked about the possibility, a presidential spokesman said Wednesday, “There’s no position on this issue yet” and further noted there's no current amendments being worked on or considered. 

But earlier this month Putin described the constitution as “not some fossilized legal construct but a living, developing organism,” and at a press conference last week vaguely mentioned that any changes to the Basic Law “a matter for broad civic discussion,” according to Bloomberg.

Perhaps the best quote on the issue came last Spring, however, when Putin was presented with a question of his prospects after 2024 just after his reelection to a second consecutive term. He said, “At present I don’t plan any constitutional reforms.” And when asked about seeking office in 2030, as allowed by current law, he quipped, “What am I going to do, stay until I’m 100 years old? No.”