Not unlike Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Russian president Vladimir Putin seems intent on extending his supreme power, even if his constitutional welcome is wearing thin.
Mr. Putin, who has repeatedly pledged to leave office when his second term expires next March, this week hinted that he may seek to become prime minister after stepping down as president.
Analysts say his immense popularity and his loyal political base would enable him to wield significant power in that post, while critics suggest he plans to modify the Constitution to weaken the presidency – effectively keeping his current role while switching titles.
Ironically, the net effect of such changes may be to democratize Russia's top-heavy political system and give parliament more say than it has had under either former President Boris Yeltsin or his chosen successor – Putin.
Under the current setup, the president nominates the prime minister and can dissolve the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, if it refuses to confirm his choice.
If Putin claims the top government job as leader of the majority party in parliament, United Russia, this could create checks and balances where none have previously existed. Putin paved the way for such a move this week by announcing he would run on United Russia's ticket in the December parliamentary elections.
"It's strange that democratic reforms should be enacted just for the sake of a single person's wishes," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, an independent Moscow think tank. "But if Putin's plan goes ahead, we could see a double vector emerge in Russia's political system, with a strong prime minister and a strong president, where we previously had only a single one."
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