January 23, 2020 / 9:19 AM / a month ago

Putin's political shake-up backed by Russian parliament in initial vote

FILE PHOTO - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with students at the Sirius educational centre in Sochi, Russia January 22, 2020. Sputnik/Alexey Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s lower house of parliament unanimously gave its initial backing on Thursday to sweeping constitutional changes proposed by President Vladimir Putin which are widely seen as an attempt to extend his influence after he steps down.

The reforms, which Putin unveiled last week, were backed by all 432 lawmakers who took part in the vote in the State Duma, as the lower house of parliament is known. Nobody voted against or abstained. The Duma is controlled by the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party.

The changes are seen as giving Putin scope to retain influence once his current presidential term expires in 2024, though he said at the weekend he did not favor the Soviet-era practice of having leaders for life who die in office.

The legislation would for the first time enshrine the status of the State Council, now a low-profile body that advises the president, in the constitution. Some of the president’s broad powers would also be clipped and parliament’s powers expanded.

Putin, 67, has not disclosed what he plans to do once he leaves the Kremlin.

Before they become law, the constitutional amendments must be approved by the lower house of parliament in two further votes before being voted on by the upper house, examined by regional parliaments, and then signed by Putin.

Russia’s constitution has not been changed since 1993.

Parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the lower house would hold its next reading of the legislation on Feb. 11 and that parliament might manage to complete the overall approval process by the end of February, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin has said that the changes should also be put to a nationwide vote. But it remains unclear what form such a vote would take and when it will be held though some Russian media have suggested it will take place in April.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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