Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that could extend his rule in the Kremlin would be held on July 1, after the April 22 vote was postponed due to the novel coronavirus.
The changes, already approved by parliament and Russia’s Constitutional Court, would reset Putin’s presidential term tally to zero, allowing him to serve two more back-to-back six year terms until 2036 if reelected.
“This date is perfect,” Putin said in a televised meeting, responding to a proposal by the country’s electoral commission.
The referendum seeks nationwide approval for wide-ranging changes to Russia’s constitution, including a provision to enable Putin to run for re-election.
Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister for two decades, is the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.
The constitution would be amended to enable Putin, 67, to run for re-election as president twice more, theoretically enabling him to remain in office for another 16 years from now.
The rise in infections has been declining in recent days, prompting Putin to announce an easing of lockdown measures and the rescheduling of a May 9 Victory Day parade for June 24.
He said last week that Russia had passed the peak of the pandemic and told officials yesterday that it was time to plan again for the vote.
“As the situation with the pandemic improves, we of course are returning to normal life, including the need to think about further work on amendments to the constitution,” Putin said.
He added that officials needed to pay “special attention” to safety issues in organising the vote, saying that public health needed to be the “first and foremost priority”.
Critics have denounced the constitutional reforms as a power grab by Putin, 20 years after he first came to power.
Putin served the maximum two consecutive terms between 2000 and 2008 before a four-year stint as prime minister.
He returned to the Kremlin in 2012 for a newly expanded six-year mandate and was re-elected to a fourth Kremlin term in 2018.
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