MOSCOW—President Vladimir Putin backed a constitutional amendment to reset his term count, a move that could eventually prolong his two-decade grip on power until 2036.
The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on Tuesday adopted a proposal that would allow Mr. Putin to run again in 2024, when his second sequential presidential term ends and he is currently required by the constitution to stand down.
Tuesday’s move was the latest step in a carefully choreographed process that began in January and has involved a change of government and Russia’s biggest constitutional overhaul since the end of the Soviet Union.
In a speech to lawmakers, punctuated by frequent applause, Mr. Putin said that he would back the changes if the country’s constitutional court didn’t object. They would be part of a wider package of constitutional amendments to be put to a national plebiscite in April.
“Russia has had enough revolutions,” Mr. Putin said. “The president is the guarantor of the constitution, and to say more simply, the guarantor of the security of our state, its internal stability and internal, evolutionary development.”
The amendment would allow Mr. Putin to serve another two back-to-back six-year presidential terms until 2036, when he would be 83.
With his conditional approval of the amendment, Mr. Putin is giving himself more options for after his term ends, said former government adviser Konstantin Gaaze, a Moscow-based political analyst.
“Putin is convincing himself that he is irreplaceable,” Mr. Gaaze said. “So he re-established himself as a personal guarantor of the elite’s future.”
Mr. Putin, 67, has held power in Russia since 1999, as either president or prime minister, though his popularity has begun to flag in recent months amid U.S. sanctions over Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and low oil and gas prices bruised the economy and living standards for Russians. The coronavirus outbreak and the recent fall in oil prices have presented further challenges for him.
“We see how difficult the situation is in world politics, in the field of security, in the global economy,” Mr. Putin said Tuesday. “The coronavirus also flew to us, and oil prices dance and jump, and with them the national currency and the exchange rate.”
In January, Mr. Putin proposed constitutional changes aimed at redistributing formal powers between the president, prime minister and parliament. Mr. Putin also reshuffled the government, removing longtime ally Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister and putting the former head of the tax service, Mikhail Mishustin, in charge.
The constitutional changes fueled speculation that Mr. Putin was seeking ways to continue to wield political power after 2024.
Mr. Putin, however, has denied that he wants to remain in power, saying he isn’t in favor of the Soviet-era tradition of having leaders who die in office.
A national vote on the constitutional amendments is scheduled for April 22. The changes include proposals to improve social policy and public administration.
While Mr. Putin’s plans to overhaul politics in Russia haven’t been met with a significant rise in public resistance, several thousand people attended a rally in the Russian capital last month, ostensibly to mark the murder of an opposition leader, in what they said was a rebuke to Mr. Putin’s plans to stay in power.
Across the globe, particularly in Africa, some autocratic leaders have changed national constitutions to remain in power indefinitely. In 2018, China abolished a two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing President Xi Jinping to remain in power for life.
So far, however, Mr. Putin has followed the letter of the law. In 2008, he stepped down as president and became prime minister while Mr. Medvedev served as president for four years.
“In fact, this isn’t about him [Putin]; this is about us, citizens, and the future of the country,” she said. “What I know for sure is that the very fact of the availability of this opportunity for the incumbent president, considering his huge authority, is a stabilizing factor for our society.”
Mr. Putin rejected the need for early parliamentary elections, another idea being debated at the Duma. Elections are currently scheduled for 2021.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house, said that whether Mr. Putin decides to run again in 2024 or not, the election will be competitive and that “nothing is predetermined.”
Opposition leaders appeared unconvinced.
“It’s all clear: There won’t be early elections. Putin will be president for life,” Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, said in a tweet.