The Kremlin crease

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be secretly grateful to Valentina Tereshkova, the first Sovet woman cosmonaut to fly to space in the early 1960s. Now as member of the Duma, it was she who proposed the amendment as part of a series of constitutional changes, subject to a nationwide vote on April 22.

The proposed constitutional amendment will allow him to seek another two terms in the Kremlin.

Theoretically, the system of elections precludes a president for life. The current praxis militates against the Soviet- style procession of leaders-for-life or until deposed. Putin is required by the Constitution to step down in 2024, and there have been months of conjecture about how he could stay in power beyond then, or at least ensure a safe transition for himself.

Through seemingly choreographed initiatives, Putin has moved swiftly to entrench his hold on power beyond the middle of the decade. Hence the speculation in Moscow and further afield that he is sure of his position until 2036. Having ruled for 20 years, his current term expires in 2024. Tereshkova’s proposal on amending the Constitution envisages a constitutional amendment that will “reset” Putin’s presidential term count back to zero.

“In principle, this option would be possible,” he said at the end of a half-hour speech in the Duma. “But on one condition – if the constitutional court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the Constitution.” The move will have to be approved by the people in a referendum next month, a condition that is seemingly concordant with the relatively newfound certitudes of democracy in a former communist state.

In a sense, Putin has effected a volteface. In recent months, he had emitted the signal that he could leave the presidency. In January, he told a veteran of World War II that he was “worried about a return to the 80s, when Kremlin leaders stayed in power until the end of their days” and did not provide for a transition of power. And in a rare moment of candour, he admitted that “I won’t hide that I was wrong. It was an incorrect statement because during the Soviet Union there were no elections”.

One could argue that barely three hours after Tereshkova’s resolution and his acquiescence, Putin was the happiest man in Russia last Tuesday. “The very existence of an opportunity for the current president [to be re-elected], given his major gravitas, would be a stabilising factor for our society”, was Tereshkova’s message to Parliament. Was the strategy crafted and set to match Putin’s secret ambition?

The amendment says that the new rule will not count any presidential terms already served. In reality, the amendment affects only two “living Russians” – Putin and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Putin seems poised for yet more innings at the crease.