In what has been described as a constitutional coup, the vote got underway today despite concerns about the safety of people voting in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and worries over voter fraud. Authorities insist all necessary safety precautions will be taken during the vote. If the constitutional changes are approved, Mr Putin, 67, would be able to run for two more back-to-back six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024.
The former KGB operative has not ruled out running again, but denies he has taken a final decision.
Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Moscow Center think tank, said: “Since the president did not find a successor, he appointed himself.”
The Communist Party, which generally backs Mr Putin on major issues, is opposed to the constitutional changes.
Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s veteran leader, believes the President already has “more powers than a tsar, a Pharaoh and a Communist Party General Secretary combined”.
Joseph Stalin served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR – and hence the nation’s leader – from 1922 to his death in 1952.
If Mr Putin was to opt for re-election in four years’ time and be successful twice, he will have been has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, a total of 37 years.
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However, with the support of state media, and with no immediate threat from a divided opposition, the vote is tipped to go Mr Putin’s way despite rising unemployment, a coronavirus-impact economy and no real prospect of recovery.
Speaking to Express.co.uk in 2018 after the publication of a poll suggesting more than 50 percent of Russians wanted Mr Putin to stay on past 2024, Mathieu Boulegue, a Research Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, told Express.co.uk: “He is clearly very popular within Russia.
“I think it’s too early to say whether he will stand again in 2024.
“It depends on how isolated he is politically.
“But one thing is sure: Vladimir Putin will not disappear from Russian politics.
“He will not retire – it’s not going to happen like that.
“The only question is how he will stay in the system, be it as a kingmaker or somebody behind the scenes.
“In order to stand again he would have to change the constitution.
“Any opposition there is to him is weak.
“There is nobody strong enough to challenge him.
“At the moment Putin is as powerful as he wants to be.”