* Constitutional change could let Putin rule until age of 83
* Lower house of parliament backs move in vote
* Amendment expected to pass other hurdles too
* Opposition activists stage lone protest pickets
Constitutional changes allowing Vladimir Putin to run for president again in 2024 sailed through Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday, opening the way for him to potentially stay in power until 2036.
Putin, 67, who has dominated the Russian political landscape for two decades as either president or prime minister, made a dramatic appearance in the chamber a day earlier to argue that term limits were less important in times of crisis.
Putin, a former KGB officer, is currently required by the constitution to step down in 2024 when his second sequential and fourth presidential term ends. But the amendment which he backed would formally reset his presidential term tally to zero.
The 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on Wednesday voted in favour of the change, along with other amendments to the constitution, by 383 votes, in a third and final reading. Nobody voted against, but 43 lawmakers abstained. Twenty-four lawmakers were absent.
If, as Putin critics expect, the constitutional court now gives its blessing to the amendment and it is backed in a nationwide vote in April, Putin would have the option to run again for president in 2024.
Were he to do that, and his health and electoral fortunes allowed, he could potentially stay in office for another two back-to-back six-year terms until 2036 at which point he would be 83 and have spent 36 years at the top of Russian politics.
Kremlin critic and opposition politician Alexei Navalny has said he believes Putin will now try to become president for life.
Putin has not spelled out what his plans for the future are after 2024, but has said he does not favour the Soviet-era practice of having leaders for life who die in office.
Putin in January unveiled a major shake-up of Russian politics and a constitutional overhaul, which the Kremlin billed as a redistribution of power from the presidency to parliament.
But Putin's critics say the reform was merely a smoke screen to give the country's ruling elite a way to keep Putin in power after 2024.
Opposition activists have said they plan to organise protests as early as Friday against the move to allow Putin to stay on. Their plans are complicated however by an order from Moscow's government which has banned public gatherings of more than 5,000 people until April 10 due to coronavirus-related risks.
Two people staged lone pickets outside the State Duma on Wednesday. One of them Gleb Tumanov, 31, said he was a member of the Yabloko party, and held a banner calling the move ‘an usurpation of power.’
‘I’m here because of Vladimir Putin’s desire to stay for a fifth term or even maybe a sixth,’ said Tumanov.
‘It just feels sad. And reminiscent of the Soviet Union. I didn’t spend very much time living in the Soviet Union obviously but neither do I have any desire to do so.’
The changes backed by the State Duma on Wednesday will now be reviewed by other parts of the Russian legislative branch, including by Russia's upper house of parliament later on Wednesday. No significant opposition is expected.
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