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David R. Cameron on Article 81

David R. Cameron, a professor of political science at Yale University, has a letter published in the FT today about the easiest way for Vladimir Putin to stay in power: amend Article 81 of the constitution. Thanks to Sunday’s victory at the polls, United Russia certainly controls enough seats to do so, and Cameron points out that an initiative for constitutional amendment could easily be organized to appear as though it were a grassroots political project from the regions, and Putin, the reluctant and law-abiding head of state who is simply responding to the overwhelming will of the people. The theater of it all is remarkable.

From the Financial Times:

Putin’s easy route to a third termFrom Prof David R. Cameron.Sir, In your report “Putin warns outsiders not to meddle in Russian elections” (November 29) you note that, with the government’s official publication of the date of the presidential election, Vladimir Putin appears to have missed a final chance to stand for a third term by stepping down before the campaign began. On the other hand, in “Clan with a plan” (Analysis, November 29), you suggest he may stay on as president if a way can be found around the constitutional prohibition against a third consecutive term.There is a very easy way for Mr Putin to stay on for a third term: amend the constitution. Article 81, which limits presidents to two consecutive terms, can be amended by a two-thirds majority of the Duma and a two-thirds majority of the Federation Council. In Sunday’s election, United Russia, with Mr Putin’s name at the top of its list, received 64 per cent of the vote and 70 per cent of the seats. Another 18 per cent of the seats will go to the Liberal Democratic party and Fair Russia, both of which support Mr Putin. In the council, composed of representatives of the governments of the territorial units of the country, support for such an amendment would, if anything, be even more overwhelming. One of the most vocal supporters of the idea of a third term for Mr Putin has been Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the council.An amendment of article 81 would take effect as soon as both houses have approved it. Since the presidential election will take place three months after Sunday’s election, there will be plenty of time for the newly elected Duma and the council to amend the constitution.Mr Putin does not, of course, want to appear to be scheming to stay on as president and has never called for a constitutional amendment. But he has never said he would not run if the Duma and council amended the constitution, and there were intriguing signs during the election campaign that this may happen. Rallies and demonstrations took place throughout the country calling for him to remain in office. They would not have happened without the approval of local officials, and evidence has surfaced that local officials had a hand in organising them. Two weeks ago in Krasnoyarsk, Mr Putin said if United Russia won with an overwhelming majority he would have a “moral right” to ask the Duma and government to continue current policy. And, he said: “I’m refraining so far from saying in what form I will do that. There are various options and, if it happens [an overwhelming majority] I will have that opportunity.” United Russia won an overwhelming majority and Mr Putin now has that opportunity.David R. Cameron,Professor of Political Science,Yale University,New Haven, CT 06520, US