Russian PM Dmitry Mevedev has announced that his government is resigning, hours after President Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional changes that could prolong his stay in power.
If approved by the public, the proposals would transfer power from the presidency to parliament.
President Putin is due to step down in 2024 when his fourth term of office comes to an end.
However, there is speculation he could seek a new role or hold on to power behind the scenes.
President Putin put forward his plans in his annual state of the nation address to lawmakers. Later, in an unexpected move, PM Dmitry Medvedev announced that the government was resigning to help facilitate the changes.
Vladimir Putin said during a speech to both chambers of parliament that there would be a nationwide vote on changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament.
Constitutional reforms included giving the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, “greater responsibility” for the appointment of the prime minister and the cabinet.
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Currently, the president appoints the prime minister and government ministers, and the Duma approves the decision.
Presidnet Putin also suggested an increased role for an advisory body called the State Council. The council, which is currently chaired by Vladimir Putin, comprises the heads of Russia’s federal regions. President Putin said it had proved to be “highly effective”.
Other measures include:
- Limiting the supremacy of international law
- Amending the rules that limit presidents to two consecutive terms
- Strengthening laws that prohibit presidential candidates who have held foreign citizenship or foreign residency permits
PM Dmitry Medvedev made his announcement on state TV with President Putin sitting next to him.
He said: “These changes, when they are adopted… will introduce substantial changes not only to an entire range of articles of the constitution, but also to the entire balance of power, the power of the executive, the power of the legislature, the power of judiciary.
“In this context… the government in its current form has resigned.”
Vladimir Putin thanked Dmitry Medvedev for his work but said “not everything” had been accomplished.
He asked the prime minister to become deputy head of the National Security Council, which is chaired by the president.
Vladimir Putin later nominated tax service chief Mikhail Mishustin to replace Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.
Dmitry Medvedev has been prime minister for several years. He previously served as president from 2008-2012, switching roles with Vladimir Putin – a close ally – after the latter served his first two terms as president. Russia’s constitution only allows presidents to serve two consecutive terms.
Even when he was prime minister, Vladimir Putin was widely seen as the power behind then President Medvedev.
Opposition leader and leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he believed that any referendum on the constitutional changes would be “fraudulent crap”. He said Vladimir Putin’s goal was to be “sole leader for life”.
The last time Russia held a referendum was in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under President Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor.
Vladimir Putin became acting president following Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 and was formally inaugurated a year later. He has held the reins of power – as president or prime minister – ever since.