Russian MPs give quick first approval to Putin reforms
MOSCOW, Jan 23: Russian lawmakers on Thursday unanimously approved a sweeping constitutional reform bill put forward by President Vladimir Putin in its first reading, after less than two hours of debate.
All 432 lawmakers present in the lower house State Duma voted in favour of the bill, just three days after the amendments were presented to parliament.
"This was a powerful show of unity," Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said after the vote, adding that the key second reading was expected on February 11.
The bill will then face a third reading, but with parliament dominated by Kremlin-loyal lawmakers it is unlikely to face much pushback.
Putin made the call for reforms last Wednesday and it was quickly followed by the resignation of the government and the appointment of a new premier and cabinet.
The breakneck speed of the changes has fuelled speculation about Putin's plans, with some saying he is laying the groundwork to hold on to power after his current term expires in 2024.
The Russian leader has kept observers guessing with the plan, saying it will transfer more authority to parliament and other state bodies, but also maintain a strong presidency.
Once approved in three readings in the Duma, the bill will go to the upper house Federation Council before a final signature by Putin.
The president has promised a national vote on the reforms, with some officials suggesting it could take place within weeks, but it is not clear what form a plebiscite could take.
In his state of the nation speech last week, Putin suggested altering the constitution because "things have changed dramatically" since it was adopted in 1993. -AFP