MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Thursday that the country's voters will have a final say on his proposed constitutional amendments, changes widely seen as crafted to let Putin stay in power well beyond the legally mandated end of his presidency in 2024.
“It is necessary that people come to the polling stations and say whether they want the changes or not, ” Putin said at a meeting with municipal officials in a Moscow suburb.
“Only after the people speak out, I will either sign or not sign" the amendments into law, Putin added.
The Russian leader offered the assurance amid growing concerns that a national vote would be meaningless, e ven though Putin himself proposed the idea of holding one after he put forward the amendments, which are designed to redistribute the executive powers of government in Moscow.
The proposed changes would allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members, give a greater role to the State Council, an obscure consultative body of regional governors and federal officials, and prioritize the primacy of Russian laws over international law.
At the same time, the amendments would further strengthen the power of the presidency by giving the country's leader the right to dismiss judges, the prime minister and Cabinet members while remaining in charge of the Russia's military and law enforcement agencies.
Putin said earlier this month that the changes would bolster democracy. But critics argued that behind the democratic veneer of a popular vote lay a plot to help Putin keep a tight grip on power.
The State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, unanimously approved the amendments last week in the first of the three required readings.
Lawmakers said the popular vote would take place after the changes are approved by both houses of parliament and signed into law by the president, prompting questions about the purpose of the vote and what it would actually accomplish.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov objected last week to the suggestion any vote would be just a formality but refused to go into specifics of when and how it would be organized.
Peskov noted that a popular vote isn't legally required to adopt the constitutional amendments, but it was “the president's decision” to call for one.
Russian election chief Ella Pamfilova echoed his sentiment and told reporters that having citizens vote must be “a matter of ethics” for Putin.