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‘Respect the constitution’ Draft law on extending presidential immunity provokes controversy among Russian lawmakers

Source: Meduza
Russian State Duma Press Service

On Tuesday, November 17, State Duma deputies approved a draft law on extending immunity for former Russian presidents in its first reading. The bill was developed to support the amendments to the constitution adopted following this summer’s nationwide vote. That being said, the proposed legislation still provoked a controversial discussion among Russian lawmakers. Deputies from the Communist Party (KPRF) in particular were adamantly opposed — prompting parliamentary chairman Vyacheslav Volodin to accuse them of “trampling” on Russia’s institutions.

As Meduza reported previously, the draft law on extending presidential immunity effectively protects former Russian presidents from prosecution for both criminal and administrative violations after they leave office, in addition to complicating the procedures for stripping a former head of state of immunity. While the draft law has only been approved in its first reading, all of these provisions have already been written into the current version of Russia’s constitution.

During the parliamentary session on November 17, some lawmakers from the Communist Party (KPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) spoke out against adopting the bill. In response, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin called on the representatives from all factions to support the draft law. Volodin said that considering the amendments to the constitution, the parliamentarians ought to adopt the decision in the interests of Russian citizens:

Because in this way we are protecting the interests of our country. So that a person who makes decisions now also feels that he is needed not only today but also tomorrow.

During his speech, Volodin spoke, among other things, about the “weak state” and the collapse of the Soviet Union: “The man who destroyed it [the USSR] is being condemned inside the country, but outside of the country? Everyone applauds. Therefore, if the country is to be stronger, it’s absolutely obvious that tomorrow, when the president ceases to hold power, he must be protected — by the people, by guarantees.” 

Presidential Envoy to the State Duma, Garry Minkh, followed Volodin’s speech by calling on the dissenting deputies to give up their parliamentary mandates:

I advise those of you who don’t like the constitution to quit this job and go to the streets, there you will find your comrades-in-arms, only these will be completely different people. I’m not talking about elections, I’m talking about voluntary resignation. You’re obliged to respect the constitution, you’re obliged to make decisions within the framework of the constitution [...] The constitution has changed, if it doesn’t suit some part of you, make a decision.

In the end, 357 lawmakers voted in favor of approving the draft law, while 37 opposed. As KPRF deputy Vera Ganzya explained in a Facebook post, the Communist Party’s representatives voted against adopting the bill because “everyone should be equal before the law.”

Initially, the KPRF opposed the amendments to the constitution

In March, 43 State Duma deputies from the Community Party abstained from voting for the adoption of the law on amendments to the constitution. The Communists also voted against the amendment on resetting President Vladimir Putin’s presidential terms (a change that will allow him to run for president two more times and potentially remain in power until 2036). In addition, only one senator from the Federation Council voted against the law on amending the constitution — the KPRF’s Vyacheslav Markhayev. 

After the vote, the lawmakers tried to move on to other issues, but five minutes later deputies from the KPRF began criticizing Garry Minkh. Lawmaker Nikolai Kolomeytsev said that “our regulations do not include lectures to the speakers,” while Olga Alimova called on lawmakers “to stop trying to educate each other and threatening us with some kind of punishment,” and Vera Ganzya said that “only our voters can suggest [that we] resign.”

Vyacheslav Volodin responded to the criticisms from the Communist Party deputies by saying that if the State Duma is discrediting government institutions, then this requires a response, because otherwise “this is how the disintegration of the country begins.” Volodin underscored that he, as State Duma chairman, refused to “look [on] and nod his head” at what the KPRF deputies were saying, because he has his own civic position:

I want to emphasize once again: the actions that politicians allowed in the ’90s led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The actions that politicians took after Stalin’s death, when they crossed out all of his victories and trampled on him, also led to bad consequences, though Stalin was assessed by both the people and historians. The actions in 1917, when they shot the tsar’s family and the revolution broke out, made great sacrifices to our country, to all of us.

Volodin’s speech on how Stalin’s “victories were crossed out” (in Russian)

Volodin also condemned the fact that the deputies had begun to “trample on institutions.” “All countries around the world the world protect institutions, sacralize them. Only we, from century to century, take everything and start from the beginning, burning to the ground, and then [sic]. Therefore, you have your convictions, but we need a country that will also be so in the future. And here we cannot be indifferent,” Volodin said. 

Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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