MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced Wednesday, January 15, that the government was resigning, following President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a series of constitutional reforms.
In a televised meeting with the Russian president, Medvedev said the reforms would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned.”
The proposed reforms would strengthen the role of parliament and would include giving parliament the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as in the current system.
Other changes would see the role of regional governors enhanced and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates.
“We should provide the president of our country with the possibility to take all the necessary measures” to carry out the changes, Medvedev said.
“All further decisions will be taken by the president.”
Russian news agency Tass said Putin accepted the resignation, thanking Medvedev’s government for the work it has done.
“For my part, I also want to thank you for everything that was done at this stage of our joint work, I want to express satisfaction with the results that have been achieved,” the president said during a meeting with the cabinet of ministers.
“Not everything was done, but everything never works out in full,” Putin added.
Putin also proposed creating the post of deputy head of the Security Council, suggesting Medvedev take on the position.
‘Leader for life’
Speculation has swirled about changes to Russia’s political system that would allow Putin to stay on after 2024.
Some have suggested he could remain as a prime minister with increased powers or in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
It was unclear how, if at all, the constitutional changes could affect Putin’s future role.
But leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he expected any referendum to be “fraudulent crap” and that Putin’s goal remained to be “sole leader for life.”
Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Putin has held a firm grip on the country since coming to power with Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.
Re-elected to a six-year term in 2018, Putin has seen his approval ratings fall to some of their lowest levels, though still far above those of most Western leaders.
Recent polls put Putin’s rating at 68% to 70%, up a few points from a year ago but down from a high of more than 80% at the time of his last election.
Hit by Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia’s economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall.
Frustration boiled over last summer, with thousands taking to the streets of Moscow to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections, leading to wide-scale arrests and long jail terms for a number of demonstrators.
The state of the nation address – delivered in the Manezh exhibition hall next to the Kremlin – is one of three big annual Putin events, along with a marathon press conference and live phone-in where he takes questions from the Russian public. – with reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com