Putin just demonstrated how a leader can constitutionally lock himself into power forever

Donald Trump loves to test the waters about abolishing Presidential term limits. As much as he might fantasize about becoming dictator-in-chief, it would take a lot to actually make it happen, so I wouldn't hold my breath worrying about it.

That being said, Vladimir Putin just found a sneaky way to lock himself into power until at least 2036: tacking a rider onto another, humongous bill, just hours before the Parliament votes on it.

In the past, Mr. Putin proceeded cautiously, seeking to preserve a veneer of legitimacy. Confronting term limits in 2008, Mr. Putin opted for a four-year hiatus as prime minister while his protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev, became the caretaker president.

In January he proposed some nebulous constitutional changes that analysts said pointed to his intention to stay beyond the end of his current term.

But with his proposal on Tuesday, Mr. Putin seemed to prefer something bolder, saying he supported the legislation for the good of the country. The president is the guarantor "of the security of our state, of its internal stability — its internal, evolutionary stability," Mr. Putin said. "And I mean evolutionary. We've had enough revolutions."


"No one is saying" Mr. Putin will run again in 2024, one lawmaker, Aleksandr Khinshtein, said in a televised interview. "But the possibility of doing so must exist for the head of state in order to maintain stability in society."

I guess bad faith arguments for implausible deniability are totally fine when your country is run for decades by a famously guileful spymaster.

Of course, the bill was approved by Parliament, with no one voting "no" (although some did abstain). According to the BBC, there will be a "public vote" — scare-quotes sic — on April 22 to decide if this measure is actually approved. I wouldn't be that surprised if a former KGB officer-turned-President-for-life found a way to ensure that vote worked in his favor. If that happens, Putin will have steered the country longer than Stalin did, although he would need to make it another two terms after that — all the way to 2048, when he would be 95 years old — to reign as long as Peter the Great.

To reiterate: I don't actually think Trump would ever succeed at extending his time in office. But Putin is terrifyingly good at showing how to pull off authoritarian rule with a thin veneer of seemingly-democratic charm, and the GOP certainly admires that playbook.

Putin Endorses Brazen Remedy to Extend His Rule, Possibly for Life [Anton Troianovski / The New York Times]

Putin paves way for another presidential term [BBC News]

Image: Oren Rozen / Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)