No need for successors

Article by Angelachiara Allegretti | Illustration by Tommaso Bisagni

On June 25, Russia went to the polls to vote in a national referendum on the controversial amendments to the country’s constitution. The referendum, originally scheduled for April 22, was postponed to June 24 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Voting took place from June 25 to July 1st.

The referendum dealt with a list of amendments to 14 articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the improvement of the functioning of public institutions.

The result was an overwhelming victory in favor of the new amendments, with 77.92% for and 21.27%  against, with a turnout of 65.28%. The Kremlin considered the voting results triumphant.

The main points of Russia’s new constitution

The new text makes changes to existing articles and adds several new ones that exhibit a more conservative ideology and opens up the possibility of a different scenario in the next election.

The consultation introduces the definition of “marriage” as “union between a man and a woman” and a provision will be included in the Constitution to preserve traditional values such as “faith in God”.

The new amendments also introduce the superiority of the Russian constitution over International law.

New requirements to become president are introduced. The President must be a Russian citizen residing in the Russian Federation for at least 25 years, as opposed to the current minimum of 10, and never have had foreign citizenship or residence.

The referendum also sanctions an extension of the legislative power with respect to the executive: it provides that the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, must approve the candidacy of the prime minister, contrary to what occurred previously. It will also have greater decision-making power over the appointment of ministers and deputy ministers.

In addition to these series of amendments, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, deputy of United Russia, and a supporter of President Putin, proposed adding to the list of amendments the “zeroing” of the mandates, claiming this was the will of the people.

This means that President Vladimir Putin would be able to participate in the presidential election of 2024, be re-elected after six years, and probably remain in power until 2036, at the age of 84. Putin said himself in an interview with Rossija-1 TV that he does not rule out running for the next presidential election if it is foreseen by the Constitution.

Voting procedure

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, special measures were introduced. In addition to the polling stations, voting can take place at home, and in Moscow and the Nizhny Novgorod region, it was possible to vote online.

Of course, these extraordinary measures have fueled controversy. The Communist Party saw a discrepancy in the voting of “homeworkers” in the Moscow region of Ramenki. Some citizens in Russia and abroad have declared they voted in the election twice or more – online and at the polling station.

The vote was for the entire package of changes. There was only one question: “Do you approve of amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation?” Voters could only select one of two boxes: accept or reject all the amendments.

In any case, the text of the new constitution was already printed and on sale in the bookshops before the referendum, just to make people more aware of what they were going to vote. It was just as well that the referendum was successful and there ended up being no need to withdraw the copies from bookstores.

The audience

On June 21 President Vladimir Putin stated on a TV interview broadcast that he has a strong intention of remaining President. On this occasion, he also stated that there was no need to look for successors.

With the people’s support, he wants to face the real source of his worries: the elite. Due to his distrust of the establishment, changes to the laws, affirmed by the people, can help him maintain power.

Since the elites don’t share the same view as President Putin regarding his future mandate, he prefers that Russian citizens be the ones to impose their decisions on the elite.

The future of the country

Putin’s next mandate is unlikely to happen. The constitutional amendments serve to reassure citizens and the establishment of the concrete possibility of Putin maintaining power.

People need stability and safety, and if there will be no successor up to par, Putin will remain the best option as Russians’ last hope. The state is not yet ready to take on the risks of uncertain leadership.

In other words, the system must change and renew itself, but if this does not happen, the President will continue to be in power and assure stability to the country.

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