Russian lawmakers have approved constitutional changes to permit President Vladimir Putin to remain in power past 2024.
Russia’s lower house of parliament passed the measures Wednesday, by a vote of 343 to zero. Forty-three members did not take part in the vote.
The constitution requires Putin to step down in 2024 when his fourth presidential term ends. The new reforms would permit him to seek an additional two terms.
The 67-year-old Putin has been an influential part of Russian politics for twenty years as either president or prime minister.
Russia’s constitutional court must approve the constitutional changes for them to take effect. A nationwide vote on the proposed amendments is set for April 22.
The measures extend more powers to the presidency. They also ban same-sex marriage and declare “a belief in God” as one of Russia’s traditional values.
Putin made an appearance in parliament on Tuesday to argue that term limits were less important in times of crisis. In his words, the measures, “are needed, and I am sure they will be useful for society, for our citizens."
Russian government critics and opposition groups condemned the parliamentary action and called for protests.
On Tuesday night, about 200 people demonstrated individually near the Kremlin - the only legal form of protest in Russia without approval from the government.
Activist Alexei Miniaylo had posted a message on Facebook calling for the protest of Parliament’s action. “It was clear from the start that it is being done to keep Putin in power forever,” he said.
Two opposition groups called for a bigger protest in Moscow on March 21 or March 22, and sought approval from city officials. Soon after, the officials banned until April 10 all outdoor events of more than 5,000 people. The officials said the ban would help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Activists then made a new request Wednesday that reduced the number of demonstrators from 50,000 to 4,500. Civil Society movement leader Mikhail Svetov told the Associated Press, “Our position is that if the coronavirus is such a dangerous threat, then they should cancel the vote, as it can expose millions of people to infection.” He said if it is safe for the country to vote on constitutional reforms, then demonstrations should be permitted as well.
Activists are planning demonstrations in other Russian cities also, said Tatyana Usmanova, a member of the group No. It formed two months ago to organize opposition efforts against the proposed constitutional action. She said the issue “gets to people, because it is totally out of line.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
expose – v. to put (someone or something) at risk from a harmful action or condition