Putin places his hand on the Russian constitution at his swearing-in ceremony on 7 May 2018. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

  Constitutional reforms in Russia

  9 Debates

The Council of Europe's Commission for Democracy through Law (or Venice Commission) has strongly criticised the 2020 reform of the Russian Constitution. Among other things, the reform enables Vladimir Putin to govern until 2036. According to the Commission's experts, "the changes go far beyond what is appropriate according to the principle of separation of powers" and threaten the rule of law in Russia. The media agree.

According to official figures, 78 percent of voters cast their ballots in favour of the reforms set out in Russia's controversial constitutional referendum on 1 July, while 21 percent voted against. Observers say the vote was rigged. But did the Kremlin do everything right after all?

The Russians have until the end of today, 1 July, to vote in a referendum on comprehensive constitutional amendments. Under the amendments the president's number of terms in office would be reduced to two, but as the counter would be reset to zero President Vladimir Putin would be able to remain in office until 2036 - which commentators strongly criticise.

Putin has postponed the constitutional reform referendum originally planned for 22 April to 1 July. In response to the pandemic, the vote will take place mostly outdoors and with the option of casting ballots up to a week in advance. For some commentators, it's about time the vote happened; others see propaganda at work.

In Russia, the package of constitutional amendments - including the possibility for Putin to remain in office - has been swiftly approved by the Federation Council, all regional parliaments and also by the Constitutional Court in an expedited procedure. Now the people are to have their say on the reform in a referendum due to be held on April 22. But the corona crisis has put a big question mark over whether the vote should take place as planned.

On 22 April the Russian people are to approve a host of amendments to the country's constitution in a referendum not provided for in the electoral law. The changes were brought before the Duma by Russian President Vladimir Putin and include reforms of the state structure and various references to Russian fundamental values. Journalists explain that these references are not what really counts here.

In Russia, proposals for constitutional amendments initiated by Putin are currently under discussion. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has requested that a reference to God be included in the preamble, even saying he is praying for this. The Kremlin has referred the matter to the working group charged with drafting the constitutional reform. The media's response to this proposal is rather negative.

On Monday the Kremlin submitted to parliament the draft constitutional amendments that were announced only last week. People in Russia are now wondering why Putin has convened a 75-member working group to flesh out over the course of the next few months the constitutional amendments he proposed. Reactions by Russian journalists vary from bitterness to resignation.

The constitutional amendments and government reshuffle announced by Vladimir Putin are the subject of intense discussion. Commentators try to decipher what role the new prime minister Mikhail Mishustin - previously head of the tax authority - will play. Among the many sceptical voices there are also those who take a rather positive view of Putin's plans.