Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new prime minister promised “real changes” on Thursday as he was approved by lawmakers after the Kremlin announced sweeping reform plans.
Putin tapped Mikhail Mishustin for the role as part of a series of bombshell announcements on Wednesday, which sparked speculation that Russia’s longtime leader could be preparing his own political future.
The lower house State Duma voted overwhelmingly to approve Mishustin as premier, less than 24 hours after Russia’s political order was shaken by Putin’s announcement of constitutional reforms and the resignation of the government.
No MPs voted against his candidacy, although Communist lawmakers abstained.
Speaking before his approval, Mishustin called on parliament to work with him to urgently enact Putin’s programme.
“People should already now be feeling real changes for the better,” Mishustin said.
Longtime prime minister Dmitry Medvedev resigned along with the cabinet following the constitutional reform announcement.
Putin’s current term as president ends in 2024 and observers say the 67-year-old could be laying the groundwork to assume a new position or remain in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
Mishustin said his priority would be to “increase citizens’ real incomes” but also said the government must “restore trust” with the business community and drive innovation, echoing the state-of-the-nation speech when Putin announced the reforms.
He assured lawmakers that Russia can afford salary hikes and social payouts announced by Putin, estimating they will cost about four trillion rubles ($65 billion) over the next four years.
His appointment was finalised with a Putin decree. A second decree appointed Medvedev as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council — an advisory body — a post that was created for him.
‘Stay number one’
In his state of the nation speech, Putin said he wanted more authority transferred to parliament from the president.
He also called for the power of the State Council 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.
While his nominee Mishustin was speaking in parliament, Putin met his newly formed working group for amending the constitution.
Putin said the amendments “would have no effect on the foundations of the constitution” but would make authorities “more effective” and ensure Russia’s development.
He said Russia would remain a presidential republic following the reforms, but it would be the parliament, not the president who would be picking the government.
Independent political analyst Maria Lipman said the announcements indicated that Putin wanted to “stay on as number one in the country, without any competitors”.
She said he could be deliberately weakening the presidency before relinquishing the role.
Russia’s opposition also said the proposals indicate Putin’s desire to stay in power.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter that Putin’s only goal was to “remain the sole leader for life”.
Medvedev, prime minister since 2012, posted a parting message on his VK social networking page on Thursday, saying Putin’s plans “demand a new approach” and thanking cabinet ministers for their work.
Hockey and pop music
Mishustin will have a week to propose a new government and ministers.
The former head of an investment group who trained as an engineer, Mishustin has a PhD in economics and has led Russia’s Federal Tax Service since 2010.
He shares Putin’s love for hockey and has played in matches with security services officials. Passionate about the digital economy, he has also composed music for pop songs, newspaper Vedomosti reported.
Navalny, who has alleged wide-scale corruption among Russia’s top politicians, on Thursday said Mishustin possesses a fortune inconsistent with his public service career and called on insiders to share information about his secrets.
Russia’s government resigned in a shock announcement on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin proposed a shake-up of the constitution.
The announcement by Putin’s longtime ally Dmitry Medvedev came after the president used his annual state of the nation address to call for a nationwide vote on a package of constitutional reforms.
The resignation raises deep questions about the long-term shape of Russia’s political system and the future of Putin, who is due to step down at the end of his fourth Kremlin term in 2024.
A few hours after the Russian leader’s address, Medvedev and Putin appeared alongside each other on national television to say the government was stepping down.
Medvedev said the constitutional proposals would make significant changes to the country’s balance of power and so “the government in its current form has resigned”.
“We should provide the president of our country with the possibility to take all the necessary measures” to carry out the changes, Medvedev said. “All further decisions will be taken by the president.”
Putin thanked Medvedev — who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 — expressing “satisfaction with the results that have been achieved.”
The changes Putin proposed on Wednesday would transfer more authority to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister and senior cabinet members, instead of the president as under the current system.
Other changes would see the role of regional governors enhanced and residency requirements tightened for presidential candidates.
“Today in our society there is a clear demand for change,” Putin said in his address. “People want development, they are striving to move forward in their careers, in their education, in becoming prosperous.”
The package of reforms would be put to a national vote, he said, without specifying when.
“We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion,” the 67-year-old leader said.
‘Leader for life’
Speculation has swirled about changes to Russia’s political system that would allow Putin to stay on after 2024.
Some have suggested he could remain as a prime minister with increased powers or in a powerful behind-the-scenes role.
It was unclear how, if at all, the constitutional changes could affect Putin’s future role.
But leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he expected any referendum to be “fraudulent crap” and that Putin’s goal remained to be “sole leader for life”.
Russia last conducted a referendum in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Putin has held a firm grip on the country since coming to power with Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999, staying on as prime minister when Medvedev took the presidency.
Re-elected to a six-year term in 2018, Putin has seen his approval ratings fall to some of their lowest levels, though still far above those of most Western leaders.
Recent polls put Putin’s rating at 68-70 percent, up a few points from a year ago but down from a high of more than 80 percent at the time of his last election.
Hit by Western sanctions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia’s economy has stagnated and most Russians have seen their disposable income fall.
Frustration boiled over last summer, with thousands taking to the streets of Moscow to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from local elections, leading to wide-scale arrests and long jail terms for a number of demonstrators.
The state of the nation address — delivered in the Manezh exhibition hall next to the Kremlin — is one of three big annual Putin events, along with a marathon press conference and live phone-in where he takes questions from the Russian public.
A Croatian court on Monday sentenced former prime minister Ivo Sanader to six years in jail and the boss of Hungary’s MOL energy group to two years for bribery.
Sanader — already serving time for a separate graft conviction — and MOL’s Zsolt Hernadi were convicted for “receiving and giving a bribe” concerning a 2009 deal after the Hungarian firm purchased shares in local oil and gas group INA, the judge said.
Judge Maja Stampar Stipic said the deal allowed then-PM Sanader to pocket 10 million euros ($11 million) in exchange for granting the Hungarian firm control over INA.
MOL, whose main shareholder is the Budapest government, has a 49 percent INA stake, while Zagreb holds a 44 percent stake.
“As the top state official, Sanader … jeopardised Croatia’s vital economic interests,” prosecutor Tonci Petkovic said in his final statement.
Defence attorneys for CEO Hernadi, who was tried in absentia, argued that the prosecutors did not prove an “incriminating tie” between the two defendants.
Both men pleaded not guilty and can appeal the verdict.
The former premier was already found guilty of the charge in 2012, but the country’s top court overturned his eight-and-a-half-year jail sentence and called for a re-trial.
Croatia has sought Hernadi’s arrest for years, but Hungary has refused to extradite him.
Sanader, conservative prime minister from 2003 to 2009, has faced several other graft cases in which he is suspected of embezzling millions of euros.
In April he was jailed to serve a six-year sentence in another corruption case.
In 2018 he was also sentenced to two and half years for war profiteering, but acquitted of abuse of power charges in another trial.
Sanader is the highest official to be charged with corruption in Croatia since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Tackling corruption was key for the country’s successful bid to join the European Union in 2013.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Beirut home of Lebanon’s new prime minister on Saturday, calling for Hassan Diab’s resignation less than 10 days after he was appointed.
Lebanon is without a cabinet and in the grips of a deepening economic crisis after a two-month-old protest movement forced Saad Hariri to stand down as prime minister on October 29.
Anti-government protests continued after Hariri’s resignation, while political parties negotiated for weeks before nominating Diab, a professor and former education minister, to replace him on December 19.
Echoing protester demands, Diab promised to form a government of independent experts within six weeks — in a country where appointing a cabinet can take months.
But protesters on Saturday were unconvinced by his promise.
“We’re here to bring down Hassan Diab. He doesn’t represent us. He’s one of them,” said one young demonstrator, referring to the country’s ruling elite, who protesters despise collectively.
Lina, another protester agreed, saying: “It’s the revolution that must name the prime minister, not them.”
The 60-year-old Diab, who has a low public profile and styles himself as a technocrat, last week called protester demands legitimate but asked them to give him a chance to form “an exceptional government”.
“We are willing to give him a chance, but let us at least give him a roadmap,” Lina told AFP.
“The names don’t matter to us, we want policy plans, what is his programme?” she asked.
Protesters decry Diab’s participation as a minister in a government deemed corrupt.
The support given to him by powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah also angers many protesters and pro-Hariri Sunnis.
Protesters also gathered in the northern Sunni majority city of Tripoli on Saturday, an AFP photographer said.
The protests and political deadlock have brought Lebanon to its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The international community has urged a new cabinet to be formed swiftly to implement economic reforms and unlock international aid.
Algeria’s new president on Saturday named as his prime minister an academic turned political insider who vowed to work to win back people’s trust after months of street protests.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected this month to succeed ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, asked Abdelaziz Djerad to form a government, the presidency announced in a statement carried by state television.
The 65-year-old premier, who has a Ph.D in political science, struck a conciliatory tone after meeting Tebboune, whose election victory was rejected by protesters as a ploy to keep establishment insiders in power.
Djerad pledged to work with all Algerians to surmount the economic and social challenges confronting the north African country.
“We face a major challenge to win back the trust” of the people, he added.
But the initial response on the street to Djerad’s appointment suggested he has his work cut out.
“This change of prime minister is illegitimate since the one who appointed him is illegitimate,” said pharmacy student Maassoum.
The people “asked for a new soup. They just changed the spoon,” said one of his friends, Amine.
Although from an academic background, Djerad already has experience of the inner workings of the Algerian state, having held posts including general secretary of the presidency from 1993-1995 and the same role at the foreign ministry from 2001-2003.
He replaces Sabri Boukadoum, the foreign minister who was appointed interim prime minister after Tebboune’s election win.
Algeria’s 10-month-old protest movement has rejected Tebboune as part of the same corrupt system that has ruled since independence in 1962.
Demonstrators have stayed on the streets since Bouteflika resigned in April after two decades in office.
On Friday tens of thousands of Algerians rallied again insisting on a total revamp of the political establishment.
But the demonstration seemed one of the smallest since the start of the unprecedented, peaceful uprising, with some protesters saying school and university holidays had kept people away.
The crowd was outnumbered by the throngs of people who had turned out for the funeral on Wednesday of powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who had become the de facto strongman in the country after Bouteflika quit.
The December 12 election was boycotted by a large part of the electorate.
Tebboune won with 58.1 percent of the vote on a turnout of less than 40 percent, according to official results, and was sworn in on December 19, days before Gaid Salah died of a heart attack at age 79.
An Algerian court sentenced two former prime ministers to long jail terms Tuesday in the first of a string of high-profile corruption trials launched after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests in April.
Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12, the state-run APS news agency reported. A former industry minister, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run abroad, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years, it added.
The resignation of Lebanon’s government in response to nearly two weeks of countrywide protests has made the crisis there “even more serious,” France’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
“Prime Minister (Saad) Hariri has just resigned, which makes the crisis even more serious,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament in Paris, and urged the authorities in Lebanon “to do everything they can to guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of Lebanon.”
Hariri earlier announced he was submitting the resignation of his government, bowing to rising public pressure. His televised statement was met with cheers from crowds of protesters demanding change.
Le Drian said a condition for stability in any country “is a willingness to listen to the voice and demands of the population”.
“Lebanon needs a commitment from all political leaders to look within themselves and make sure there is a strong response to the population,” said the minister, offering France’s help.
A nationwide protest movement has gripped Lebanon for almost two weeks, calling for an overhaul of a political class viewed as incompetent and corrupt.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday urged the EU to compromise as he prepared to submit a new Brexit plan but warned Britain was ready to leave without a deal on October 31, “come what may”.
Johnson said an alternative to a “compromise for both sides” — which included no customs checks “at or near” the Northern Irish border — was for Britain to leave without a deal, “an outcome for which we are ready”.