Russian lawmakers were yesterday to begin reviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nomination of a little-known tax chief as the new prime minister after his announcement of a sweeping constitutional shake-up fueled speculation about his future plans.
The Russian State Duma, the Russian Federal Assembly’s overwhelmingly Kremlin-loyal lower chamber, is likely to approve Russian Federal Tax Service Director Mikhail Mishustin for the role, following the shock resignation of the government in the wake of Putin’s call for reforms to reshape Russia’s political system.
The series of bombshell announcements made during and after Putin’s state-of-the-nation speech triggered speculation about his role past 2024, when his presidential term expires.
Some suggested that 67-year-old Putin, who is two years into his fourth presidential term and has steered the country since 1999, could be laying the groundwork to assume a new post or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
It is also unclear whether Mishustin, a relatively obscure technocrat disengaged from political debate whose career has revolved around Russia’s tax service, is a temporary figure or could be groomed as Putin’s successor.
The State Duma said on its Web site that Mishustin would hold “consultations” with the four parties represented in the legislature prior to a plenary session starting at 10am, at which his candidacy would be formally reviewed.
In his speech, Putin said that he wanted more authority transferred to the legislature from the president, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior Cabinet members.
Outlining the proposals, which would be the first significant changes to the country’s constitution since it was adopted in 1993, Putin noted the “demand for change” among Russians.
Frustration has been building in Russia, where ordinary people have seen their incomes stagnate or decrease over the past five years, while a key reform hiking the pension age has led to anger and a fall in Putin’s ratings.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in office since 2012, announced the resignation of his government soon after Putin’s speech on Wednesday, saying that the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power.
Independent political analyst Maria Lipman said all of the announced changes indicate that Putin wants to “stay on as No. 1 in the country, without any competitors.”
He could be deliberately weakening the presidency before relinquishing the role, she said.
Russia’s opposition also said that the proposals indicate Putin’s desire to stay in power.
“To remain the sole leader for life, who took over the whole country as his property ... is the only goal for Putin,” opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.
If 53-year-old Mishustin is appointed, he would have a week to propose a new government and ministers.
The former head of an investment group trained as an engineer and has a doctorate in economics, and has led the tax agency since 2010.
He also shares Putin’s love for ice hockey and has reportedly been seen at matches with security services officials.
Former opposition lawmaker Gennadiy Gudkov called Mishustin “a new faceless functionary without ambition” who embodies a system that is “detrimental for the economy.”
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