A meeting Thursday chaired by President Vladimir Putin on amending the Russian Constitution featured proposed changes on a variety of topics, ranging from the protection of traditional values to the country’s status as a nuclear power. Putin raised the idea of constitutional amendments last month, and lawmakers quickly gave tentative approval to his proposals for granting extra powers to parliament while maintaining a strong presidential authority.
His proposed changes were widely seen as part of Putin’s efforts to extend his grip on power after his current presidential term ends in 2024. The drafts don’t reveal what position he might take next. Putin created a working group of lawyers, activists, politicians, cultural figures and athletes to discuss the changes in parallel with lawmakers. He said Thursday that the amendments only would take effect if Russia’s citizens approved them in a vote, but it remains unclear how such a vote would be organized.
At the meeting, some group members offered their own ideas for amendments on top of Putin’s. One member suggested adding language to the constitution that defines a family as a union of a man and a woman, an idea in sync with Putin’s opposition to same-sex marriages. Putin said the suggested wording would violate the rights of families led by single parents, but the Russian leader reaffirmed his strong disapproval of gay parents.
“As long as I remain the president, there will be no Parent No. 1 and Parent No. 2 here,” he said. “There will be a mom and a dad.” Another working group member suggested that the constitution refers to Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal as a tool to deter aggression. Putin responded that even though nuclear weapons play a key role now, future weapons could overtake them as a top deterrent. Russian opposition members condemned the reform as a "constitutional coup" and called for a rally against it on 29 February.
Earlier in December, Putin had dropped a hint about his political future post-2024 at a marathon conference where he was in favour of removing the word ‘successive’ from tenure length. As per the Russian Constitution, a President can stay for six years with one successive re-election, which makes it 12 years at stretch.
In 2008, Putin handed over the presidency to his ally Dmitry Medvedev and got back in 2012. Speculations were rife that the Russian President might use the same tactic to return to power but Putin’s hint said otherwise. At the annual conference, Putin said that he had served two successive terms and had the constitutional right to return to the post of the president but this could be “possibly” removed due to objections from political scientists and activists.
(With AP inputs)