MOSCOW: Russia’s government resigned on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin proposed a shake-up of the constitution in a shock announcement.
The resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev came after the president used his annual state of the nation address to propose a package of constitutional reforms that would strengthen parliament’s role.
There has been speculation about changes to Russia’s political system that would allow Putin to stay on after 2024, when he is due to step down after a fourth term. Putin named Mikhail Mishustin, the low-profile head of the country’s tax service, to replace Medvedev.
Medvedev and Putin appeared alongside each other on national television a few hours after Putin’s address to say the government was stepping down.
Medvedev said the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned”. He added that all further decisions will be taken by the president.
Putin thanked Medvedev and suggested that he take on a role as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs.
The changes Putin proposed would transfer more authority to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as under the current system.
Other changes would see the role of regional governors enhanced and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates and other top officials.
“Today in our society there is a clear demand for change,” Putin said in his address. “People want development, they are striving to move forward in their careers, in their education, in becoming prosperous.”
The package of reforms would be put to a national vote. “We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion,” the 67-year-old leader said.
Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Putin has held a firm grip on the country since coming to power in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.
Russia’s economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall after Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The state of the nation address is one of three big annual Putin events, along with a marathon press conference and live phone-in where he takes questions from the Russian public.
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