MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian lawmakers will vote on Thursday on a proposal to hold a presidential election on March 17, when Vladimir Putin is expected to seek and win a new six-year term.
The vote was announced on Wednesday by Andrei Klishas, a senior member of the Federation Council. The Council is the upper chamber of parliament and is responsible under the constitution for setting the election date.
Putin, 71, has yet to declare that he will run but six sources told Reuters last month he had already made the decision.
He has no rival seen as capable of mounting a serious challenge in the election, which will take place just over two years into Russia’s war in Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation”.
Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, two of Russia’s best known opposition politicians, are both serving decades in penal colonies. Many of Putin’s other leading critics have fled abroad.
In what felt like a warm-up for his campaign, Putin on Monday visited a vast exhibition showcasing Russia’s achievements, lingering at a display on the Soviet-era development of nuclear weapons and posing for pictures with children.
On Wednesday he was making a rare foreign trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, before hosting the president of Iran for talks in Moscow on Thursday. On Dec. 14 he is due to hold a marathon question-and-answer session with callers from all over Russia, where he is likely to be asked about his re-election plans.
Putin has been in power as president or prime minister since the last day of 1999, when Boris Yeltsin stepped down and made him acting president.
If he completes another six-year term in the Kremlin, he will overtake Josef Stalin – who led the Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953 – and become the longest-serving leader of Russia since Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century.
Opposition politicians see the election as a mockery of democracy, designed to create the appearance of real political competition. Supporters of Putin dismiss that analysis, pointing to independent polling giving him approval ratings of above 80%.
(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)