Russia’s parliament has approved a package of constitutional amendments in a move widely seen as an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to stay in power past the end of his term in 2024.
Mr Putin submitted the amendments to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on Monday, just days after presenting them in the annual state-of-the-nation address last week.
He suggested that politicians could name prime ministers and Cabinet members, proposed a greater role for the State Council, an obscure consultative body of regional governors and federal officials, and sought to prioritise the primacy of Russian laws over international law.
The proposed changes, he argued, would bolster democracy.
The Kremlin-controlled Duma unanimously voted for the amendments on Thursday, after discussing them for two hours.
Mr Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB office, has led Russia for more than 20 years — the longest since the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
According to the Russian Constitution, he will have to step down in 2024, having served two consecutive terms.
The bill submitted to parliament empowers the State Council to “determine the main directions of home and foreign policy”, its specific authority yet to be spelled in a separate law.
It gives the parliament more say over Cabinet ministers’ appointment, but emphasises that the president should retain the power to dismiss the prime minister and Cabinet ministers and remain in charge of the Russian military and law enforcement agencies.
Commentators see these proposals as a strategy for Mr Putin to stay in charge by becoming the head of the State Council.
The draft also modifies the constitution to limit a president to two terms altogether, unlike the current version containing a limit of two consecutive terms.
The second reading of the bill is scheduled for February 11. Politicians and the working group created by Mr Putin have already come up with a variety of proposals in addition to what the draft law outlines.
Mr Putin said that the constitutional changes need to be approved by the entire nation, but it remains unclear how such a vote would be organised.
Russian opposition members condemned the reform as a “constitutional coup” and called for a rally against it on February 29.