Recipes for extending power: how presidents changed the Constitution in the countries of the former USSR
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed a constitutional amendment. Changing the basic law is a popular initiative among post-Soviet leaders who are about to expire. Writes about it with the BBC.
Russia is no exception: in 2008, the presidential term was increased to six years.
This extension of presidential terms is the secret of the long tenure of many leaders of the former USSR.
However, now we are talking about strengthening the parliament at the expense of the president. Experts suggest that this could mean keeping Putin in power after 2024, but in a new capacity.
As an example, they recall Kazakhstan, where in the past permanent president Nursultan Nazarbayev retains power as the head of the Security Council and the ruling party.
But the experience of the region shows that such scenarios can get out of control, as in Georgia and Armenia, where the leaders who started the transition to a new quality have lost power and even become defendants in criminal cases.
The rapidly changing constitution of Ukraine
If in the Baltic countries the constitutions practically did not change since their adoption after the collapse of the USSR, then Ukraine changed the basic law often - although it adopted a new Constitution instead of the Soviet one only in 1996.
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The first change was initiated by the second president of the country, Leonid Kuchma. In 2000, on his initiative, a referendum was held in which voters voted to expand the president’s powers to dissolve parliament and other changes. But the Verkhovna Rada ignored the results of the vote, and they did not introduce amendments to the Constitution.
The form of government was changed only after the Orange Revolution of 2004, when the powers of the president were cut in favor of parliament and the government.
After Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential elections in 2010, the country briefly returned to its previous form of government. After the flight of the fourth president to Russia, part of the functions of the head of state was again curtailed - the country returned to the 2004 Constitution.
Simple extension - from Minsk to Ashgabat
Presidential terms have not only been extended in Russia - this is one of the most popular tactics of expiring leaders.
Thanks to such amendments, as well as the abolition of restrictions on the number of terms, Alexander Lukashenko and Emomali Rahmon have been continuously leading Belarus and Tajikistan for 25 years, respectively, and Ilham Aliyev has been heading Azerbaijan for 16 years.
In Kazakhstan, constitutional amendments allowed Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain in power from the time of the collapse of the USSR until 2019.
In Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov became president for life and died in this position, and under the successor of Turkmenbashi, the presidential term was extended.
Strengthening Parliament - Lessons from the South Caucasus
A number of post-Soviet republics have already limited the president’s powers in favor of parliament, in which case leaders were suspected of trying to stay in power in a new capacity.
In Georgia, during his second term, Mikheil Saakashvili initiated the transfer of key powers from the president to parliament and the government.
The opposition then accused Saakashvili of trying to maintain power by transferring to the prime minister’s chair. However, the presidential party lost the election, and he soon left the country, becoming a defendant in a criminal case.
Similarly, in Armenia, during the second presidential term of Serzh Sargsyan, a referendum was launched on the transition to a parliamentary republic.
Sargsyan promised that he would not try to become prime minister, but changed his mind shortly before the end of his powers and was elected head of government in a parliament loyal to him.
This move provoked massive protests, and Sargsyan resigned after spending only six days in the prime minister’s chair. Now the former president, a number of his relatives and associates are under investigation.
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