Institutionalizing Personalism: The Russian Presidency after Constitutional Changes

In: Russian Politics
Fabian Burkhardt Research Fellow, Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies Regensburg Germany

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The 2020 constitutional changes considerably increase presidential powers while sending mixed signals about presidential transition. The main driver of the amendments were term limits. The “zeroing” of Putin’s presidential terms enhances certainty for himself by fostering uncertainty for others. But there is more to the amendments: Numerous changes are not new, they simply align the constitutional text with subconstitutional powers the presidency had been accumulating. The embedding of term limit circumvention in a comprehensive constitutional overhaul is a risk-hedging strategy to avert resistance by weakening the signal about Putin’s intentions. Constitutional changes are therefore an instrument of elite coordination. The amendments also increase presidential flexibility. This expedited regime personalization is detrimental to governance and will make repression more prevalent. But it also creates more risks for Putin. Regardless of how presidential succession will play out, Putin’s legacy will be a highly personalized authoritarian regime with a constitutionally unconstrained presidency.

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