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Russian prime minister and entire government resigns over Constitution Amendment

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The Russian prime minister and entire government resigned on Wednesday as part of sweeping constitutional changes that could see President Vladimir Putin extend his hold on power.

Putin, in his annual address to Parliament, proposed a referendum on amending Russia’s constitution to increase the powers of parliament – while maintaining a strong presidential system.

“I consider it necessary to conduct a vote by the country’s citizens on an entire package of proposed amendments to the country’s constitution,” Putin said, without specifying a date for a referendum.

He suggested amending the constitution to allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members.

The president currently holds the authority to make those appointments.

“It will increase the role of parliament and parliamentary parties, powers and independence of the prime minister and all Cabinet members,” Putin said.

“We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion.

“Together we will certainly change life for the better.”

The role of governors would also be enhanced, he said, though Russia would maintain its presidential system.

“Russia must remain a strong presidential republic.”

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He also said he wanted to tighten the criteria for anyone wanting to become president – anyone wishing to become president must have lived in Russia for the past 25 years.

Hours after the government resigned, Putin named federal tax chief 53-year-old Mikhail Mishustin, a relatively unknown technocrat, as new prime minister.

Mishustin will face a vote of approval in the lower house of parliament on Thursday, the RIA news agency reported.

The shakeup sent shockwaves through Russia’s political elites who were left pondering what Putin’s intentions were and speculating about future Cabinet appointments.

In his resignation announcement on state TV, Medvedev said he needed to quit to give Putin room to carry out the changes he wants to make.

The current government will continue its work until Putin hand-picks a new one to oversee the constitutional changes to Russia’s systems and structures of power.

“The proposed changes to the constitution imply the government will actually be appointed by the Russian parliament, which is not how it is now, but at the same time, the president will retain the power to fire the government if he is not satisfied with their performance.

“The president will also keep control of the army, police and security, and will be appointing the heads of those services,” said Godfroid.

In the annual address, Putin steered away from significant foreign policy announcements, sticking mostly to domestic issues.

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