Putin’s Overhaul Gets Initial Approval in Russian Parliament

Ilya Arkhipov and Stepan Kravchenko

(Bloomberg) -- The lower house of parliament gave initial approval to President Vladimir Putin’s plan to make major changes to the constitution, widely seen as an effort by the Russian leader to extend his 20-year rule.

Legislators in the State Duma rose for a standing ovation after voting 432-0 for the proposal, which Putin unveiled in a surprise announcement last week. Discussions on possible amendments are set for next week, with a vote on those scheduled on Feb. 11. The plan will go to a national vote in April and is virtually certain to pass.

The amendments, the most dramatic since the constitution was adopted in 1993, would reduce the power of the presidency, giving somewhat more authority to the parliament and strengthening the State Council, now a largely ceremonial body. The overhaul could create options for Putin to retain control after his current term -- his last under constitutional limits -- ends in 2024.

Putin hasn’t given any public hint of his plans and details that have emerged in the days since the announcement have done little to clarify his vision. Wednesday, he told a group of students and teachers that creating a body with power above the president would be “disastrous” because it would split the government. He also ruled out emulating Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew in a father-of-the-nation role, saying it would be unworkable in Russia.

READ MORE: Understanding Putin’s Moves to Keep His Hold on Power: QuickTake

Before the vote Thursday, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin dismissed criticisms that the changes are being rushed through. “These amendments are hard won,” he told legislators. “Some people have been suffering for these since the time of Imperial Russia, when there was no parliamentarism in Russia.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net;Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory L. White at gwhite64@bloomberg.net, Tony Halpin

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