Sun | Jul 5, 2020

Putin sets July 1 for vote to extend his rule

Published:Tuesday | June 2, 2020 | 12:17 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MOSCOW (AP):

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday set a July 1 date for a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments allowing him to extend his rule until 2036 even as the nation is continuing to record high numbers of new coronavirus cases.

Speaking during a live video call with top officials, Putin insisted that the pace of the outbreak has slowed down, allowing the nation to safely hold the vote. If approved, the constitutional amendments would allow Putin to spend another 12 years in power after his current term ends in 2024.

The Russian leader argued that Russia will have 30 days before the vote to take additional efforts to control the contagion and make the ballot fully safe. The vote was postponed from April 22 due to the pandemic.

“We have fulfilled the main task: to prevent the explosive negative development of the situation,” Putin said. “It allows us to return to normal life as the situation is gradually stabilising.”

Officials reported to Putin that voters would have a chance to cast ballots in the six days before July 1 to reduce crowds and increase safety amid the pandemic. They said they would distribute free masks, gloves, and pens at polling stations, adding that voting would be held outdoors in many areas to make it even safer.

“It will be safer than visiting a grocery store,” Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova told Putin.

While the spread of the outbreak has slowed down, Russia has the world’s third-largest caseload, with nearly 415,000 infections. It is also continuing to record a steady increase in the number of new cases, with more than 9,000 new cases reported over the last 24 hours.

Russia’s relatively low coronavirus death toll of 4,855 has caused suspicion among some Russian and Western experts that the authorities may have under-reported deaths to cast a positive picture for political reasons, but officials angrily denied manipulation, saying that low mortality has been the result of efficient preventative measures and broad testing.

The constitutional vote has been the focal point on Putin’s political agenda since he initiated the changes in January.

Under the current law, Putin wouldn’t be able to run for president again in 2024 because of term limits. A new measure would reset his term count, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms if he chooses.

The 67-year-old Putin has been in power since 2000, longer than any other ruler in the country since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.