The July 1st referendum, or election, regarding the approval of the Russian Constitutional reform, has come and gone. It yielded interesting results, though, thank God, it yielded the right ones for the nation. Overall, a very strong majority, 77.92% of the voters approved the changes, and 21.27 opposed them. The voter turnout is understood to be moderately high by Russian standards, with some 65% of citizens voting in the extended time period made available by early voting. However, many of the “no” votes came, surprisingly, from voters in Moscow, some of whom told me that the way the election was conducted was “not clean”. In particular, these people expressed reservations about how the removal of presidential term limits was made less than forthright as an issue concerning the election. Instead, they noted that the primarily advertised themes had to do with the preservation of marriage as between a man and a woman (so no gay marriage is allowed), and the inclusion of God in the Constitution where it wasn’t present before. For the critics, the fix was in whether the Russian people voted for it or not.
However, this does not appear to be true, as President Vladimir Putin stressed that if the reforms were not approved by the majority of the nation, they would not take effect. After the election the Russian President noted that he understands why some did not support the measure:
“I understand those our fellow countrymen who voted against,” Putin said. “We still have a lot of unresolved problems, this is true, people often face injustice, callousness, indifference. Many still live hard lives, while we, the country’s leadership, often think that we are doing our best,” the president noted. “But no, life shows a different picture, life shows that we often underperform, while we must act quicker, more exactly, in a more organized manner and more efficiently,” the president stressed.
It is unusual for me to write about a criticism of the Russian government and its management. Contrasted with the Obama years in the US and the Deep State “silent coup d’erat” being constantly waged against its President, Donald Trump, I am usually quick to praise the Russian government and President Putin for showing strong leadership that supports basic Christian traditional family values in an unapologetic manner. Nevertheless there is food for criticism in the manner in which the Russian constitutional reform was being handled. We offer an overview of this below.
The Constitution was revised in a few specific ways. This information is taken from the English site representing the State Duma of the Russian Federation, in effect, the nation’s parliament. We have added bold italicized emphases for key points we wish to address:
- Securing social support measures: The minimum wage cannot be lower than the cost of living; the mandatory increase of pensions, benefits and other social aids is established. At the constitutional level, it is determined that the pension system is formed based on the principles of universality, justice, and solidarity of generations.
- Rule of Russian law: Decisions of interstate bodies adopted based on the provisions of international treaties ratified by Russia in their interpretation that is contrary to the Constitution of the Russian Federation will not be subject to enforcement. The contradiction shall be established by the Constitutional Court.
- New requirements for the President: The requirement of permanent residence of a presidential candidate in Russia for at least 25 years, as well as the absence of foreign citizenship or residence permit of another state, not only at the time of participation in the elections but also in the past is now established in the Constitution.The Federal Assembly also supported the amendment to nullify the presidential term.
This means that the old limit of two consecutive terms as President still exists, but that there was in effect, a “reset” which means that President Putin’s present second term is considered irrelevant to the term limits presently in place in the Constitution (H/T to Alexander Mercouris, our Editor in Chief, who clarified this in the accompanying video). This also means that President Putin can run for office again in 2024 when his present term expires. If he wins again, he can run one more time before being “finally” done in 2036. This, naturally, has brought cries of “dictator!” from the West, but for no good reason other than that Mr. Putin is doing it and other leaders in the “modern world” don’t.
This criticism lives with many people in the Russian Federation as well, mainly younger people and those older who still see Communism as having failed simply because it wasn’t done right, rather than that the Communist system is simply impossible to implement on a large national scale, if there are people that do not want to do it, or if there are those who simply use the structure as a way to “game the system.” Oddly enough, these former Communists do not remember that their First Secretaries were usually “elected” once, and for life. The way out of office was in a pine box.
- Immunity: Immunity for the President of Russia, who ceased to exercise his powers, is introduced into the Constitution. At the same time, the former head of state may be deprived of immunity in the manner prescribed by Art. 93 of the Constitution for the removal of the current head of state from office. Besides, after the exercise of his powers, the President of Russia can become a senator for a term of life.
This is a very interesting feature in the Russian Constitution, that a former president may then become a senator for the rest of his or her life.
- Securing the role of the State Council: The President forms the State Council of the Russian Federation to ”ensure coordinated interaction between state authorities and determine the main directions of domestic and foreign policy.“ The status of the State Council will be determined by special Federal Law.
- Verification of the constitutionality of laws: The legislative procedure concerning the Federal Constitutional Law and Federal Law is supplemented by the President’s right to appeal to the Constitutional Court with a request to verify the constitutionality of the law approved by the parliament before signing it.If the constitutionality of the law is confirmed, the President signs it. If the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation does not confirm the constitutionality of the Federal Constitutional Law and Federal Law, then the head of state returns the law to the State Duma.
- New requirements for civil servants, parliamentarians and judges: Increased requirements are introduced for persons exercising public authority whose powers are directly related to ensuring the country’s security and state sovereignty, namely: to the Prime-Minister of the Russian Federation and his deputies, federal ministers, other heads of federal executive bodies, senior officials of regions of the Russian Federation, heads of federal state bodies, members of the Federation Council and the State Duma, judges. “Having foreign citizenship or a residence permit of another country will be prohibited for them at the constitutional level,” explains head of the Committee on State Building and Legislation Pavel Krasheninnikov. They will also be prohibited from having bank accounts abroad.
This is a good move. Many of the power class in Russia’s government have such permits, and even secondary citizenships in other countries. While the present the optics at times that they are in office for the good of Russia, their residency elsewhere creates conflcts of interest, where they themselves can profit at the expense of the Russian Federation and her citizens.
- Enhancing the role of the State Duma: Now the State Duma will have the right to approve a candidate of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation proposed by the President. The President will appoint the approved candidate. The State Duma will also approve Deputy Prime Ministers and federal ministers (except those ministers whose activities are supervised by the President, in particular Ministers of the so-called ”power bloc“) on the proposal of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.
- Enhancing the role of the Federation Council: The major federal executive authorities (including federal ministers) responsible for defense and security, internal affairs, justice, foreign affairs, and emergencies prevention, as well as prosecutors of Russian regions, will be appointed by the President of the Russian Federation after the consultations with the members of the Federation Council.The Federation Council will suspend from duties of judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and judges of courts of cassation and appeal on the recommendation of the President if they commit acts discrediting honor and dignity of a judge.The President will also propose to the Federation Council candidates for appointment to the position of the Chairman of the Accounts Chamber and half of the total number of auditors of the Accounts Chamber. Also, in accordance with the amendments, the Federation Council will be responsible for holding hearings of the annual reports of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation on the observance of law and order in the country.
- Changes in the number of judges of the Constitutional Court: The number of judges of the Constitutional Court will be reduced from 19 to 11. At the request of the President of the Russian Federation, the Constitutional Court will verify the constitutionality of adopted laws, both federal and regional, before signing them.
- Protecting the historical truth and the future of our country: ”The Russian Federation honors the memory of defenders of the Fatherland and protects historical truth. Diminishing the significance of the people’s heroism in defending the Fatherland is not permitted,” the text of the new law says.Children are declared the most important state policy priority in Russia. The state should create conditions that contribute to the comprehensive spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical development of children, fostering patriotism, civic engagement, and respect for elders. The state also takes care of orphans.Besides, the protection of family issues, maternity, paternity, and the institution of marriage have been included in the text of the new law.
What these paragraphs mean is that Marriage is now to be defined as the union of one man and one woman. Same-sex (homosexual) marriage will not be allowed or recognized in the Russian Federation, nor will such couples be allowed to adopt orphans.
- Not only Moscow: According to the amendments, the headquarters of certain federal state authorities can be located not only in the capital of our country, Moscow but also in other cities defined by the Federal Constitutional Law.
- Russian language: One of the amendments establishes the status of the Russian language as the language of a nation-forming nation.
One of the big criticisms that comes in from the West tries to make the claim that Russia’s “constitutional government” is an utter farce, because President Putin can change the Constitution. Every time the Russian government makes a change, it is usually at the President’s behest.
The videos below start with our own editors’ commentary and discussion on this matter at depth. The second video comes from RT America.
I have no cricitism of President Putin on this matter for a very simple reason: Russia is not a constitutional republic, nor is it a representative republic. It is a presidential republic, meaning that the President of the Russian Federation can do exactly what Vladimir Putin in fact does.
The main point of criticism that I keep hearing is the “hiding” of the removal of presidential term limits. This is accompanied by a report in the usually very succinct TASS News Agency that Vladimir Putin is considering running for president again in 2024. It should be noted that after the 2018 Presidential elections, Mr. Putin stated that this would be his final term. He made it his priority at that time to get Russia’s internals on a much more solid footing, having spent earlier terms on the effort to rebuild Russia’s sovereignty and military strength.
This devolves into opinion, of course, but as an American living in Russia, neither I, nor anyone whom I talk to, can think of a suitable successor to Vladimir Putin. Of interest in the last few years has been Moscow’s own mayor, Sergey Sobyanin. Mr. Sobyanin is indeed a proven and capable city administrator who has accomplished tremendous and visible changes in the city that I have seen in my five years here.
However, after that things become unclear. The overwhelming sense is that Russia derives almost all of the impetus for the changes it has made because of Vladimir Putin. I have yet to hear in any firm sense that there is another man or woman who could do a better job of leading the nation forward. For all her strength, the nation still feels “fragile”, and some of that was manifested when the United States company SpaceX restarted American-launched space travel. Roscosmos, the state owned corporation that is responsible for Russia’s space programs, had a representative that very frankly stated that the innovation of 6,000 member SpaceX could in no way be duplicated by the 240,000 employees of Roscosmos. Interestingly, I am told that this massive number of employees features the problem of each employee having two or three bosses.
This spoke volumes about the spirit of free enterprise in the country. In one way, it is very clear that it exists. If there is one thing that is consistent in Moscow, for example, it is that almost everyone is working on something. However, the spirit of the nation seems to still be broken when it comes to developing really innovative ideas, such as building a reliable highway system nationwide, or even paving city streets in such a way that the water does not pond and cause degradation to the streets or other traffic problems. Recycling is slow to get started. While there is a lot of wealth, it seems to be from ideas other than new ones.
This is a subjective analysis, but there are many people I have discussed this with here who agree with me. While criticism of President Putin and his actions is slowly rising in the country, the fact remains that his leadership style and actions appear to be the glue that holds the Federation together and keeps it moving.
It may well be that Mr. Putin realizes this himself, and knows that if he leaves his position too early, Russia may not be able to find her footing.
This is a very difficult position for both Russia and for Mr. Putin to be in.
The measures passed are extremely important for advancing Russia’s position beyond where she stands now. We need to remember that we are still witnessing the painful recovery of a nation ravaged by seventy years of godless leftism. We further ought to spend less time scapegoating Russia and more time learning from her example not to repeat the same errors in our own nation.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.