Reading the law that allows Putin to stay Russia President until 2036

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On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation that may be able to keep him in power until 2036, when he will be 83 years old.

Putin, a former KGB officer who is now 68, completes his ongoing six-year tenure — his fourth as President — in 2024. He has already run the country either as President or as Prime Minister for more than 20 years (see box). This is the longest period a leader has been in power since Joseph Stalin, who was Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922-1953) and the premier of the Soviet Union from 1941-1953.

What’s the change

Before the new legislation was signed, a President could serve a maximum of two consecutive six-year terms. That term limit remains even in the new legislation. What has changed is that Putin’s previous terms will not be counted once the new legislation comes into effect. These will be “zeroed out”, giving him the option of serving two more consecutive terms after the current one ends in 2024.

Putin has remained in power for so long in spite of the limit of two consecutive terms because he has alternated his roles as President and Prime Minister. At the end of his first two consecutive terms as President In 2008, Putin stepped down to become Prime Minister while the President’s chair went to a chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

Until then, the term of the Russian President was of four years, and Putin has served in the chair from 2000 to 2008. Also in 2008, the President’s term was lengthened to six years, which is why Putin’s current two successive terms run for 12 years, from 2012 to 2024.

How it was changed

The legislation Putin has now signed formalises changes to the Russian Constitution that were endorsed by the people through a referendum held last year. The changes he proposed were approved by over 78% of the vote.

In January 2020, he called for changes to the Constitution, which included the removal of term limits. In a speech to the State Duma (Russia’s Lower House of Parliament) in March 2020, Putin cited the example of US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who served four terms — starting 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt’s four-term presidency paved the way for the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1951, that limited the Presidential term to two four-year terms.

In his speech, Putin said Roosevelt had to serve four terms because of the problems the US was facing at the time (Great Depression, World War II) and that, therefore, putting limits on Presidential terms was sometimes superfluous. “In conditions when a country is experiencing such shocks and difficulties, of course stability is perhaps more important and must be a priority,” a Reuters report quoted Putin as saying.

The Amendments in Russia were passed by the Lower House of Parliament in March last year.

Criticism

Some critics have likened Putin’s move to a power grab while others have called them a “constitutional coup”.

Golos, a Russian association that carries out independent election observations, called the July vote a “PR campaign”, “…the purpose of which was not to reveal the free will of citizens, but to form the necessary perception of this will by the authorities.”

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