Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 41

Acting President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he supports the idea of extending the presidential term from four to eight years, but that he opposes a proposal to make Russia’s governorships appointed positions. Extending the presidential term would require an amendment to Russia’s constitution.

During remarks yesterday to members of his campaign team, Putin said that he did not support changing the presidential term prior to the upcoming presidential election, which is set for March 26, but that it might be done prior to the next presidential election, which should take place in 2004. Putin said that the idea should be “put before the country’s population,” implying that there might be a referendum on the idea. He said that making Russia’s governorships again appointed positions, not elected, would be a “step backward” (Russian agencies, February 28). Russia’s governors were originally appointed by former President Boris Yeltsin after 1991, but one by one submitted themselves to popular elections (Russian agencies, February 28). The proposed change in the presidential term, if enacted, would give Putin eleven years in office–if he wins the next election, which is likely. While his insistence that the issue of extending the presidential term should be addressed only after the next presidential election might strike some as high-minded and statesmanlike, it is difficult to see how the constitution could be amended–much less a referendum organized and held–in the less than one month which remains before March 29.

It is interesting to note that Putin’s demarche followed the publication of a plan put forward over the weekend jointly by Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Belgorod Governor Yevgeny Savchenko and Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov. The three governors jointly suggested that the presidential term be extended to seven years, that the governors be appointed by the president and that the president be appointed by the parliament, prime minister and the “power ministries” rather than be chosen in a direct popular election. The three said that Russia needed a “presidential democratic republic with a strong vertical of executive power” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 26). The three governors’ proposed changes are all the more remarkable given that Prusak has enjoyed the reputation of being one of Russia’s more liberal and reformist politicians.

On February 27, Putin addressed a congress of the Unity party, which came in second in last December’s parliamentary election and has closely identified itself with the acting president. Putin said he hoped that Unity, which is led by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, would become Russia’s “system-forming” party. Shoigu said the party’s main task at the moment is to support Putin’s presidential bid. The Unity congress was held in the Kremlin Palace, where the Soviet Communist Party once held its congresses (Russian agencies, February 28; Moscow Times, February 29). The speeches given by Unity delegates during the congress were, reportedly, first strictly scrutinized by Unity’s headquarters and then “corrected” by the Kremlin before being cleared for delivery (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 29).