Lawmakers approve Putin nominee Mishustin as PM

Shake-up seen as President’s plan to retain power after 2024.

January 16, 2020 09:29 pm | Updated 09:48 pm IST - MOSCOW

Mikhail Mishustin speaking to lawmakers during a session of the lower Parliament in Moscow on Thursday.

Mikhail Mishustin speaking to lawmakers during a session of the lower Parliament in Moscow on Thursday.

Russia’s lawmakers approved Mikhail Mishustin as Prime Minister on Thursday in a lower house vote, less than 24 hours after President Vladimir Putin nominated him for the role.

His elevation is part of a sweeping shake-up of the political system announced by Putin on Wednesday, which led to the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev as Prime Minister along with his government.

Mr. Mishustin received 383 votes of 424 cast, with no votes against and 41 abstentions in a victory that had been all but assured when he won the unanimous backing of his party, United Russia, which has a strong majority in the chamber.

The 53-year-old Mishustin is a career bureaucrat who has worked as the tax chief for the past 10 years, keeping a low profile and showing no political ambitions. He has won a good reputation among experts who praised him for boosting tax collection and streamlining Russia’s rigid tax administration system.

‘Serious changes’

Mr. Putin told Russia’s political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech that he favoured changing the Constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions.

“These are very serious changes to the political system,” Mr. Putin said.

“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s Parliament... of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the Prime Minister.”

‘Rule for life’?

The reshuffle sent shock waves through Russia’s political elites, who were left pondering what Mr. Putin’s intentions were and speculating about future Cabinet appointments.

Mr. Putin has been in power longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953. Under the current law, Mr. Putin must step down when his current term ends.

Critics have long accused Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer, of plotting to stay on in some capacity after his term ends and continue to wield power over the world’s largest nation, which is also one of its two leading nuclear powers.

The constitutional reform proposals, which he set out on Wednesday and suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as Prime Minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up. Putin could even become speaker of a new, supercharged Parliament.

Mr. Putin suggested amending the Constitution to allow lawmakers to name Prime Ministers and Cabinet members. The president currently holds the authority to make those appointments.

At the same time, Mr. Putin argued that Russia would not remain stable if it were governed under a parliamentary system. The President should retain the right to dismiss the PM and Cabinet Ministers, to name top defence and security officials, and to be in charge of the Russian military and law enforcement agencies, he said.

Opposition politician Leonid Volkov said it looked as though Mr. Putin was digging in.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively towards setting Putin up to rule for life,” he wrote on social media.

The Kommersant business daily on Thursday called Putin’s shake-up “the January revolution”. The proposals looked, Kommersant wrote, like the start of many more changes to come.

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