The Weekend Politics Thread is smiling, but it’s very fooking furious.

Anna: “Fun” fact: we debated between the Polish election and the Russian one, and it turns out Belarus has accused both countries of election interference in their election. But we’re going with Russia, because nothing says 2020 like extending presidential powers to people who maybe should not have them. 

Monty: You said it! But that is just one of the many, many constitutional amendments Russians are being asked to vote on between this past Thursday and this coming Wednesday, and I would feel remiss if we did not give them their due.

  1. Proposes that the Russian constitution take precedence over international law. This is intimidating on its face, but not as weird as it sounds– the US Constitution supposedly takes precedence over international law, and in theory the Senate is prohibited from ratifying a treaty that violates the constitution.
  2. Proposes that the Prime Minister must be explicitly confirmed by the Duma (lower house of Parliament), and that the President will not be able to appoint one (though he could in certain circumstances be able to remove them).
  3. Proposes that the President and other high-ranking officials be prohibited from holding dual citizenship.
  4. Proposes that the Russian presidency extend its residency requirement from 10 years to 25.
  5. Proposes that the Federation Council (the upper house of Parliament) be able to dismiss Federal judges.
  6. Proposes that law enforcement officials be appointed by the President, with the confirmation of the Federation Council.
  7. Proposes that the minimum wage never be allowed to be lower than the subsistence minimum.
  8. Proposes that pensions be regularly indexed.
  9. Proposes that the role of the State Council (a high-level advisory body to the President) be constitutionally enshrined.
  10. Proposes that the President may refer approved bills to the Constitutional Court for judicial review before they are signed into law.
  11. Eliminates the requirement that the President be restricted to two consecutive terms, not counting those already served. In theory this should make Presidencies shorter, but since it’s non-retroactive, it would allow Putin to serve until 2036. This is the one everybody is talking about, and frankly it’s dubious that he will even last that long under the best of circumstances, but the proposal itself is just another way for him to project strength in a political culture where legitimacy comes less from the people and more from the faith of those who hold the keys to power. This is also precisely why The Death of Stalin was banned there.
  12. Defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Russia is going through a big homophobic vogue. We know this. But putting this in the constitution will make it that much harder to eliminate homophobic laws if when they fall out of favor, which means a lot. Can you imagine where the US would be if it had passed the anti-gay marriage amendment floated by the Bushies in 2004?

Anna: I cannot perceive making gay marriage unconstitutional in 2020 as a show of power. This is the (hopefully the last) dying gasp of an old way of thinking struggling to retain control. It’s obviously absolute bullshit to the people living there but I think that it will be made unconstitutional eventually.

So here’s my question (and I’m working off the assumption Putin did not start using his own product): Putin has to realize he’s got one, maybe two terms left. He seems more interested in retaining the power himself as opposed to stepping back and letting a protege at least puppet while he works in the shadows. To me, that would be more long-term effective in establishing his legacy and ensuring his policies and all stay even after his passing. Which, call me naive, and I know you will, I thought was the point of government, not necessarily personal power-grabs. 

Monty: I think he’s anticipating that someone else will try to make a personal power-grab, and that he needs to secure his legacy sufficiently that it can’t be erased. This is a guy who was born the same year Stalin died and lived through de-Stalinization, so he’s seen the impact firsthand.

Anna: got it, okay. I actually want to positively call out the one about minimum wage not being lower than the subsistence minimum. Imagine if the US did something constitutional to make sure minimum wage was kept up with cost of living and inflation. I mean, keep imagining because yeah right, but it would be nice. 

Monty: It would be a big hit. And that’s why Trump is so blindingly incompetent. He sees the American people as enemies to be vanquished into loving him. He can’t actually win them over through policy, because doing so would make them right. At least that’s how I see it.

The real question to me is this: do Putin’s proposals actually demonstrate strength? As you said, he isn’t getting any younger. He’s 67 years old and has no shortage of enemies. In light of that, the efforts to extend his power project more fear than strength. But then I’m saying that from the perspective of an American, for whom democracy is the norm. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the darkest corners of Israeli electoral politics, it’s that democracy is not highly valued by those who do not expect it to be there.

I wish we had someone on the ground in Russia who could explain the mood to us. But I also would fear for their safety if they did so on this site.