Russia ruling party backs Putin’s PM pick after shock overhaul

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia’s ruling party backed President Vladimir Putin’s nomination of a little-known tax chief as the new Prime Minister yesterday, after Putin’s announcement of a constitutional shake-up fuelled speculation about his plans.

The lower house of Russia’s Parliament is due to formally approve Mikhail Mishustin for the role, a day after the shock resignation of the government after Putin’s call for reforms to reshape Russia’s political system.

The series of bombshell announcements made during and after Putin’s state of the nation speech triggered speculation about his role past 2024, when his current presidential term expires.

Some suggested 67-year-old Putin, who is two years into his fourth presidential term and has steered the country since 1999, could be laying the groundwork to assume a new position or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.

It is unclear whether Mishustin, a technocrat whose recent career revolved around the tax service, is a temporary placeholder or could be groomed as Putin’s successor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) listens to Tax Service chief Mikhail Mishustin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. PHOTO: AP

But his approval was imminent after the United Russia party – which holds 75 per cent of seats in the lower house – gave its backing yesterday morning.

“We decided to unanimously support the candidature suggested by our national leader for the post of the head of government,” the head of United Russia’s parliamentary faction, Sergei Neverov, told journalists.

In his state of the nation speech, Putin said he wanted more authority transferred to Parliament from the President, including the power to choose the prime minister and Cabinet members.

He also called for the power of the State Council, an advisory body, to be expanded and enshrined in the constitution – adding to conjecture that Putin could take it over after 2024 to preserve power.

Outlining the proposals, which would be the first significant changes to the country’s constitution since it was adopted in 1993, Putin said there was a “demand for change” among Russians.