Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russia’s State Duma passed an amendment Tuesday to “reset” presidential term limits after the adoption of a new constitution later this year, paving the way for President Vladimir Putin to potentially stay in office until 2036.
As the legislature considered constitutional reforms proposed by Putin in his January state-of-the nation address, Valentina Tereshkova, a deputy from the ruling United Russia party, introduced a resolution to abolish the restriction on presidential terms, or to reset them after the adoption of a new constitution.
“I propose either to remove the restrictions on the presidential term, or to write in one of the articles of the bill the provision that after the entry into force of the updated constitution, the incumbent president, like any other citizen, has the right to be elected to the post of head of state,” she said.
The current constitution limits the president to two consecutive terms. Putin served two consecutive terms as president between 2000-2008. After serving four years as prime minister under his handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.
He is now in the middle of his fourth term, due to expire in 2024.
Under Tereshkova’s amendment, Putin would be able to run again in 2024. And since the term limits were lengthened from four to six years in 2012, the move could enable him to remain in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024. He will then have effectively ruled Russia for 36 years (from the age of 47 to 83).
Soon after Tereshkova introduced her proposal, Putin arrived at the State Duma and voiced his openness to the idea, so long as it was approved by Russia’s Constitutional Court.
“In principle, this option would be possible, but on one condition – if the Constitutional Court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the constitution,” he said.
After Putin’s speech, the legislature passed the amendment to reset term limits by 380-43, with only Communist Party lawmakers opposed.
The amendment, along with other proposed changes to the constitution, will be subject to a nationwide referendum on a new constitution on April 12.
Putin’s political future has been the subject of speculation ever since he announced his desire to amend the constitution in his January 15 address. He proposed weakening the powers of the presidency while strengthening those of the prime minister, parliament, and the State Council, a body comprising governors and other regional leaders that advises the president on a broad range of policy issues.
Following the speech, many observers predicted he would return to the premiership or become head of a newly empowered State Council after the expiration of his fourth term in 2024.
Those suspicions were strengthened by remarks Putin made to a group of World War II veterans on January 18, when he blamed a lack of term limits for the Soviet Union’s decline.
“It would be very worrying to return to the situation we had in the mid-1980s when state leaders stayed in power, one by one, until the end of their days and left office without ensuring the necessary conditions for a transition of power,” he said. “I think it would be better not to return to that situation.”
But Putin walked back those comments during his speech at the State Duma on Tuesday, arguing that the comparison was unfair since the Soviet Union was less democratic than modern day Russia.
“I will be straight, this remark was inappropriate because there were no elections in Soviet times,” he said. “Everything was done behind the scenes, or as a result of some inter-party procedures or intrigues. There were no real elections then. Now the situation is very different. This is true. It is necessary to go and vote. This is a different situation.”
(The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Democracy Index ranks Russia 134th out of 167 countries. Regional elections last year sparked protests, after the Kremlin barred numerous opposition candidates from running.)
In a January survey by Russia’s leading independent polling agency 27 percent of respondents said they want Putin to remain president beyond 2024, while 25 percent said he should retire from politics once his fourth term expires. Thirty-three percent said he should take on another political role, such as that of prime minister or head of the State Council.