MOSCOW: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday (Jan 15) that his government was resigning to give President Vladimir Putin room to carry out the changes he wants to make to the constitution.
The unexpected announcement, which came shortly after Putin proposed a nationwide vote on sweeping changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament, means Russia will also get a new prime minister.
Possible candidates include Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, Dmitry Oreshkin, the economy minister, or Alexander Novak, the energy minister.
Medvedev made the announcement on state TV sitting next to Putin who thanked Medvedev, a close ally, for his work.
"We should provide the president of our country with the possibility to take all the necessary measures" to carry out the changes, Medvedev said. "All further decisions will be taken by the president."
Putin said that Medvedev would take on a new job as deputy head of Russia's Security Council, which Putin chairs.
Putin asked for the outgoing government to remain at work until a new government was appointed.
In power as either president or prime minister since 1999, Putin, 67, is due to step down in 2024 when his fourth presidential term ends.
He has not yet said what he plans to do when his term expires, but under the current constitution, which bans anyone from serving more than two successive presidential terms, Putin is barred from immediately running again.
"SERIOUS CHANGES" TO POLITICAL SYSTEM
Putin told the country's political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech on Wednesday that he favoured changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose Russia's prime minister and other key positions.
"Of course these are very serious changes to the political system," Putin said, adding that he thought parliament and civil society was ready for the changes.
"It would increase the role and significance of the country's parliament ... of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister."
Putin's comments are likely to reignite speculation about his plans once his current presidential term ends in 2024.
Critics have long accused him of plotting to stay on in some capacity to wield power over the world's largest nation after he steps down. He remains popular with many Russians who see him as a welcome source of stability even as others complain he's been in power for too long.
Critics have suggested he is considering various options to remain at the helm, including by shifting power to parliament and then assuming an enhanced role as prime minister after he steps down in 2024.
Another option often mentioned is his heading a State Council, a body that Putin said on Wednesday he thought should be given more powers under the constitution.
SUCCESSOR'S POWER TO BE LIMITED
Although it remains unclear whether Putin will play a major role in Russian political life after 2024, his new proposals point to possible options if he decides to remain at the top table of Russian politics as many supporters and critics expect.
Under the proposals, the prime minister would present parliament with candidates for the country's deputy prime ministers and government ministers, which parliament would also confirm.
"The president would be obliged to appoint them (the parliament's confirmed picks) to these jobs," said Putin. "He would not be allowed to reject candidates confirmed by parliament."
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 with Yeltsin's resignation in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.
Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Putin had begun the process of redrawing state powers ahead of the 2024 end to his current presidency.
According to Trenin, Putin also appeared to be moving to limit the power of a presidential successor after he said on Wednesday that he favoured limiting the number of presidential terms anyone can serve to two.
Putin himself is currently on his fourth term.
Re-elected to a six-year term in 2018, Putin has seen his approval ratings fall to some of their lowest levels, though still far above those of most Western leaders.
Recent polls put Putin's rating at 68-70 per cent, up a few points from a year ago but down from a high of more than 80 per cent at the time of his last election.
Hit by Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia's economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall.