Putin sets July 1 for vote to extend his rule for years
April vote was postponed amid coronavirus pandemic
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 said the pace of Russia's coronavirus 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.
Putin argued that Russia will have 30 days before the vote to take additional efforts to control contagion and make the plebiscite fully safe. The vote was postponed from April 22 due to the pandemic.
Officials reported to Putin that voters will have a chance to cast ballots in the six days before July 1 to reduce crowds and increase safety amid the pandemic. They said that at some polling stations voting could be held outdoors to help make it safer.
While the spread of the outbreak has slowed, 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.
The constitutional plebiscite has been a 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.
Putin on Monday emphasized the importance of the constitutional vote, saying that "the constitution forms the foundation of our country's life, the lives of our children, and will determine the main legal guarantees, key social and labour relations guarantees as well as principles of our interaction with international partners."
Other constitutional changes further strengthen the presidency and emphasize the priority of Russian law over international norms — a provision reflecting the Kremlin's irritation with the European Court of Human Rights and other international bodies that have often issued verdicts against Russia.