MOSCOW – Now that President Vladimir Putin has overwhelmingly won re-election for another six years, some are wondering whether he will try to stay in power in Russia for life.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently managed it, scrapping term limits — and was among the first world leaders to congratulate Putin on his victory Sunday. Leaders across the former Soviet Union also have guaranteed themselves lifetime presidencies.
It wouldn't be that hard for Putin to follow suit. He would have to change Russia's constitution to get rid of term limits, but he has both houses of parliament at his service to rubber stamp it.
Putin has faced this question before. In 2008, he had reached his limit of two four-year terms and couldn't run again. So he anointed loyal associate Dmitry Medvedev as his approved candidate for president, and Medvedev named Putin to the post of prime minister, where he continued to call the shots for the next four years.
While president, Medvedev changed the constitution to extend presidential terms to six years instead of four. That paved the way for another 12 years of Putin after he returned to the presidency in 2012.
When his new term expires in 2024, Putin may find a malleable successor and create a new role for himself to keep running Russia from behind the scenes.
Experts say Putin is keeping all options open but probably won't make a decision until midway through his term.
He has insisted on respecting the constitution, and said Sunday night he has no plans to change it — "yet."
Whatever happens, he's not likely to do away with elections. Although he has stifled serious opponents, Putin likes elections because they give him democratic legitimacy in the West.
He laughed off the option of taking a six-year break after 2024 before moving to reclaim the presidency in 2030. The 65-year-old leader responded to a reporter: "It's a bit ridiculous, let's do the math. Shall I sit here until I turn 100? No!"