Russian President Vladimir Putin, the nation's longest serving leader since Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union, has ended any question about his political future by backing a constitutional amendment – quickly approved by the State Duma – that will allow him to stay in power until 2036.
The Kremlin-controlled Duma passed the measure on third reading Wednesday 383-0, with 43 abstentions, to remove the constitutional barrier to Putin, 67, staying in office beyond 2024.
In a highly choreographed move that began Tuesday before the parliament, Putin and lawmakers quickly backed a proposal put forth by Valentina Tareshkov, the first woman to fly in space.
The proposal would allow Putin to stay in power either by scrapping Russia's two-term limit for president or "resetting" the clock so Putin's four terms wouldn't count against him.
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Kremlin critics denounced the move as cynical manipulation and called for protests on March 21. One member of the Russian Democratic party Yabloko stood in front of the Duma building holding a sign reading: "Zeroing presidential terms is usurpation of power." Another protester's placard said: "No to eternal Putin's rule."
Until Tuesday, Putin had been coy about his political future. He put that to rest in a speech to lawmakers opposing presidential term limits but backing the idea that if the constitution is revised, the two-term limit only would apply from 2024 onward. The president’s current six-year term expires in four years.
“The president is a guarantor of security of our state, its internal stability and evolutionary development,” Putin said. “We have had enough revolutions.”
A nationwide vote on the constitutional amendment is scheduled for April.
Putin has played the system for years to keep himself in power.
After serving as president for two terms, from 2000 to 2008, Putin traded places with Russia's prime minister at the time, Dmitry Medvedev, who held the president's office until Putin could return in 2012.
The presidential term was then extended from four to six years. Putin then won another term in 2018.
Legally, that left Putin with no options beginning in 2024 unless the constitution was changed.
The amendment, tailor-made for Putin, allows a sitting or a former president to run for office "regardless of the number of terms which that person held at the time when the amendment came into force."
Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin told reporters that "these changes are necessary given today’s challenges and society’s demands," according to the state-owned TASS news agency.
The move paves the way for Putin to remain as president until he is 83, compiling 36 years in office. Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for 35 years, from 1922 until his death in 1953.
Russia’s leading opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, mocked the proposed change.
“Putin has been in power for 20 years, and yet he is going to run for the first time,” Navalny tweeted.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vladimir Putin: Duma OKs law to allow him to stay in power until 2036