The Russian parliament approved a sweeping constitutional reform in the third and final reading Wednesday, a move that will allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024, The Associated Press reported.
The Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, endorsed a set of amendments to the constitution and a provision resetting the term count for Putin after the revised constitution goes into force. It passed by a 383-0 vote with 43 abstentions.
A nationwide vote on the proposed amendments is set for April 22.
Kremlin critics condemned the move as a cynical manipulation and called for protests.
Putin, a 67-year-old former KGB officer, has ruled Russia for more than 20 years. After serving for two consecutive four-year terms — a limit outlined in the current version of the constitution — Putin shifted to prime minister’s seat in 2008, with his close ally Dmitry Medvedev becoming a placeholder president.
The length of the presidency was extended to six years under Medvedev, and in 2012 Putin returned to the Kremlin as president. In 2018, he was re-elected for another six years.
Putin has weathered several international storms during his 20 years in power. The 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, which prompted a drawn-out, years-long conflict with Ukraine, significantly boosted his approval ratings back at home.
As Moscow’s relations with the West soured over the 2014 annexation and more scandals followed, the Kremlin kept Putin’s popularity high by painting Russia as a besieged fortress in need of a strong leader to withstand the outside pressure.
The constitutional reform passed by the Duma on Wednesday would allow Putin to run for presidency two more times after 2024. Before the national vote, it will be reviewed by Russia’s Constitutional Court.
The changes redistribute the executive powers of the Russian government in Moscow and further strengthen the power of the presidency, while also banning same-sex marriage and listing “a belief in God” as one of Russia’s traditional values.
The proposal to restart the term clock for the current president was put forward by 83-year-old former Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, now a Duma deputy, during the second reading of the amendments on Tuesday. Following Tereshkova’s speech, Putin quickly arrived at parliament to address the lawmakers and supported the idea.