President Vladimir Putin has introduced changes which could dramatically affect Russia’s international image and respond to decades-long criticism of the country’s political path from the global mainstream media, say international observers discussing the president’s historic decision.
Addressing lawmakers, ministers and other high-ranking officials on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined a number of changes to the country’s constitution concerning the executive, legislative and the judicial branches which would give more powers to the Russian parliament and limit the president’s prerogatives.
Shortly after the president’s speech to the Federal Assembly Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that the government will be resigning.
‘Elegant solution’ that will reinforce the checks & balances system
The proposed changes triggered a lively debate in foreign media which often seeks to depict Russia as an autocracy with the president possessing much of the power. The Western press often places emphasis on the fact that Vladimir Putin has remained at the helm of the country either as president or prime minister for nearly two decades.
Citing the Russian president’s latest address CNBC even went so far as to allege that it is aimed at “circumventing or scrapping” the rule that prevents someone from serving more than two consecutive terms as president, given that his fourth term is due to end in 2024.
But the recent shift of power to parliament appears to be a game changer that could dramatically alter this perception.
“What we talk about there – is the classic democratic system with three pillars of government – judiciary, the government and executive”, says Ben Aris, political analyst, editor-in-chief of Business New Europe. “So he is talking about a classic democratic government. This is not what we hear normally in the press about ‘Putin’s Russia’ and his personal control. This is about constructing a long term stable political system with checks and balances where the bits of the government play the proper role as defined by the constitution which is not the case now”.
Alexey Pushkov, a senator from Perm Krai and former head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, emphasises that “those are important changes” which will give more possibilities to the head of the government, who will be less dependent on the president.
“It will be a public debate, definitely; the workings of the Constitutional Assembly will also be public because then there will be some kind of referendum or vote for these changes. And so, I think it just shows that Putin is thinking about the democratisation of political power in Russia and the political system in Russia”, Pushkov says.
Parliamentary Democracy: Why Putin’s critics were wrong all along
Joe Quinn, a Paris-based political commentator and author, says that Russia is now on track to embrace a system “more like that of European parliamentary democracies”. According to the political commentator, Putin’s move indicates that the president “is confident that Russia’s position as an independent global leader has been secured and with it the future, independent, trajectory of the country”.
“By transferring more power to the Duma, Putin is signalling his belief that the Russian political class can be trusted to continue the work that he himself has undertaken to make Russia’s national interests the primary focus of all government policies, both domestic and foreign, for the foreseeable future”, Quinn underscores.
Andy Vermaut, Belgian human right activist, echoes Quinn’s stance, stressing, however, that “in very few European countries the parliaments have a lot of power”.
“It’s great to bring the power closer to the parliaments”, Vermaut says. “After all, it is the people who are elected by the people who get the power to approve who is the prime minister. Putin thus strengthens the democratic legitimacy… So you can see that all critics of President Putin are wrong. You see he’s really trying to work to strengthen democracy in his country”.
The Belgian activist suggests this move will “help refine democracy in Russia” stressing that even in the West “not many state leaders dare” to make such a bold step.
‘It’s premature to draw conclusions how new system will work’
However, Gilbert Doctorow, a Brussels-based independent political analyst holds a different stance stressing that it’s too early to leap to conclusions of how the changes will play out.
“I think it is premature to draw conclusions about how this will work because the president’s proposals of having a parliamentary republic within what will remain a presidential republic hardly seems like the end game”, the political analyst stresses. “A cabinet that is nominated by the Duma and merely appointed by the President (or removed by the President for nonperformance) cannot be expected to take its marching orders from the President, as Putin is proposing. You have it one way or another”.
Moreover, one should think twice about Putin’s intent to give all of the Duma parties greater responsibility in forming the cabinet, Doctorow notes. Though sounding like power sharing or, in other words, a coalition government, this solution “is not always very good at getting things done, and it easily leads to incompetence”, he believes.
“What is clear from today, and especially from the resignation of the entire cabinet which followed Putin’s speech, is that we are entering a transition to the post-Putin era”, Doctorow suggests.
READ MORE: Power-Sharing: Putin proposes elegant solution for Russia’s further democratisation
Aydin Sezer, head of Ankara-based think tank, the Turkey and Russia Centre of Studies, also sees the development as preparations for what will happen next after the 2024 Russian presidential elections. According to Sezer, to adopt this new model the country will have to undergo a transition which will last until the new elections.