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Russia's prime minister and likely next president, Vladimir Putin, says he is still deciding whether to run again in 2018.
While he stressed that his immediate priority was the next presidential election on March 4, Putin did not rule out standing for what would be his fourth term in six years' time.
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"I don't know whether I want to stay [in power] for more than twenty years. I have not yet decided," he told foreign media today.
According to RIA Novosti, "many analysts believe that he would run for another term and remain in the Kremlin until 2024."
Under the Russian constitution, a president can serve only two terms successively, but any number of terms in total.
Having completed two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, Putin appointed Dmitry Medvedev as his successor and took the post of prime minister. He confirmed today that the job swap would be reversed should he win this week's election.
"My offer to him and our agreement on such power sharing, it’s not only about [our] willingness to stay in power, but also to continue the reforms that have been launched," Putin said.
Those reforms include measures to strengthen Russia's democracy, he specified, denying that the government was seeking to "tighten the screws" on its opponents and maintaining it would engage dialogue "with everybody, both with our supporters and critics."
Putin said there would be no early parliamentary polls if he is elected president, however, which RIA Novosti noted was one of the main demands of protesters who decried December's parliamentary vote as rigged.
The latest opinion polls give Putin a 60-percent approval rate, the Associated Press reported, putting him in line for an easy victory over his four opponents. According to the AP, his critics are already preparing for mass protests against feared manipulation of Sunday's vote.
The Russian government, eager to avoid allegations of voter fraud, claimed it has installed Web cams in all of Russia's 90,000 polling stations. It said key parts of the voting process would be monitored to ensure that no irregularities took place, according to NPR.
Nikolai Konkin, secretary of the Central Electoral Commission, demonstrated the monitoring on a model polling place, saying, "It's all transparent."
Opposition groups remained skeptical, saying that while the monitoring might prevent the most blatant ballot stuffing, it would not prevent a common practice called "carousel voting," where voters are driven from polling station to polling station and use absentee ballots to cast multiple votes, according to NPR.
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