MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin proposed Wednesday to tweak the Russian Constitution to increase the powers of parliament and the Cabinet — a move that could herald his intention to shift into a new position to stay at the helm after his current term expires.
Speaking in his state of the nation address before top officials and lawmakers, Putin suggested amending the constitution to allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members. The right currently belongs to the president.
At the same time, Putin argued that the president should retain the right to dismiss the prime minister and Cabinet ministers. He said that the president should have the power to name top defense and security officials.
He said that constitutional changes must be put to a nationwide referendum.
Putin's current term expires in 2024, and Russia's political elites have been abuzz with speculation about his future plans.
The 67-year-old Putin has remained at the helm for more than 20 years — longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin. He will have to step down after his term ends under the current law, which limits the president to two consecutive terms.
Observers speculated that he may stay in charge by shifting into the prime minister's seat after increasing the powers of parliament and the Cabinet and trimming presidential authority.
Other potential options include a merger with neighboring Belarus and becoming the head of a new unified state — a prospect rejected by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Putin focused his state of the nation address on the need to encourage population growth and create new incentives for economic growth.
He said that the authorities need to do more to encourage new births and support young families.
Putin emphasized that low incomes remain a key obstacle to population increase. Russia's population currently stands at about 147 million.
The Russian leader that the nation is currently facing the consequences of the post-Soviet economic meltdown that resulted in a steep drop in new births.
He promised that the government would offer additional subsidies to families that have children.