Coro­n­avirus may de­lay Rus­sian pub­lic vote on Putin’s term lim­its

The Guardian - - World - Andrew Roth

Russia may be forced to put off a pub­lic vote on amend­ments al­low­ing Vladimir Putin to hold of­fice un­til 2036 as the coro­n­avirus threat­ens to up­end a busy po­lit­i­cal sea­son in the coun­try.

The Krem­lin has yet to resched­ule a 22 April vote in­tended as pub­lic en­dorse­ment for his sur­prise plan to “re­set” pres­i­den­tial term lim­its, al­low­ing him to run for a fifth and even sixth term un­der a re­vised con­sti­tu­tion.

But as Moscow and other Rus­sian cities ramp up pre­ven­tive mea­sures against Covid-19, elec­tion of­fi­cials have dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of home vot­ing to pull off a plebiscite in a coun­try of 140 mil­lion as health of­fi­cials try to re­duce so­cial con­tact.

“The vote is set for 22 April, but the health of the coun­try’s cit­i­zens is most im­por­tant,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “If the growth of the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal sit­u­a­tion gives cause to resched­ule then it will be done.”

The busi­ness daily Ve­do­mosti re­ported yes­ter­day that the vote would prob­a­bly be resched­uled to June. One of its sources said the cur­rent date for the vote could co­in­cide with the pro­jected peak for cases in Russia.

The spread of the dis­ease could also threaten Russia’s cel­e­bra­tion of the 75th an­niver­sary of Vic­tory Day on 9 May, at which the French pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, and US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Robert O’Brien, were due. The event serves as both a me­mo­rial to sec­ond world war veter­ans and a show­case for its mil­i­tary hard­ware.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day they had iden­ti­fied 71 new cases of Covid19, bring­ing the to­tal to 438 peo­ple, with 262 in Moscow. The coun­try has closed its bor­ders to most for­eign­ers.

The pan­demic co­in­cides with one of the most con­se­quen­tial po­lit­i­cal sea­sons in Russia since 2014, as Putin laid the ground­work this month to po­ten­tially be­come the long­est serv­ing ruler since the tsars, ex­ceed­ing even Stalin. Pub­lic health mea­sures have also had a chill­ing ef­fect on protests, with bans on gath­er­ings of more than 50 peo­ple.

▲ Vladimir Putin could run for a fifth or sixth term as Russia’s pres­i­dent

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