PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin has proposed 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 politicians, Putin suggested amending the constitution to allow politicians to name prime ministers and cabinet members, a right which currently belongs to the president alone. He said that constitutional changes must be put to a nationwide referendum.

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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 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.

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Other potential options include a merger with Belarus and becoming the head of a new unified state, a prospect rejected by Belarus 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. Putin emphasised that low incomes remain a key obstacle to population increase. Russia's population currently stands at about 147 million.

The president said his nation is currently facing the consequences of the post-Soviet economic meltdown.