A new proposal to change Russian presidential term limits could pave the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
The constitutional amendment proposed by lawmaker and former cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova would reset the current term limits, which limit Russian presidents to two consecutive six-year terms. Putin is already the longest-serving leader of the country since Josef Stalin. Russians are scheduled to vote on the proposed amendment on April 22 in a nationwide constitutional referendum.
Putin spoke to lawmakers at the Kremlin-controlled State Duma on Tuesday about what such a change would mean for the future of presidential power in Russia. It's important, he said, for a president to ensure the country's "evolutionary development." For now, he said, it's important to not move too quickly to change how Russian state power operates: "We have had enough revolutions."
"I have no doubt that the day will come when the supreme, presidential power in Russia will not be so personified, if I may say so, that it will not be connected to a certain individual," Putin added. "But this is exactly how it was in our previous history, and we must take this into account."
Putin told lawmakers on Tuesday that he did not endorse completely eliminating presidential term limits, one element of Tereshkova's proposal. But he strongly backed the idea of resetting the number of terms he could run.
Putin told lawmakers that he thought amending Russia's constitution would be possible as long as the country's Constitutional Court approved it. Putin also pointed to other countries that have no restrictions on presidential terms. Even in the United States, he said, the two-term limit has only been in place since the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951.
The Great Depression, economic uncertainty, unemployment, and World War II all called for persistent leadership in the U.S., Putin said. As Russia is also undergoing upheaval and difficulty, "stability may be more important and must be given priority," he said, especially "when a country still has many problems."
The Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, overwhelmingly endorsed the proposal.
"Putin will stay in power and in his present position for life," Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told NPR. "As for the future of Russian democracy, we will need to wait till after Putin passes from the stage."
The 67-year-old Putin has maintained power in some form or another for more than 20 years, serving as both president and prime minister. His current term is set to expire in 2024; should he run again, Putin could be 83 when the next term limit runs out in 2036.
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