Moscow, Jun 1 (efe-epa).- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that a national vote will take place on July 1 which could allow him to extend his rule until 2036.
The proposed constitutional amendments would allow the leader, who has been in power since 2000, to stand for re-election in 2024 when his fourth presidential term expires.
Putin, 67, described the date as “impeccable” amid criticism from political opposition that it is too soon because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Russia has been the third-worst affected country in the world by the coronavirus pandemic with more than 414,800 confirmed cases and 4,800 deaths.
The president said 30 days would be sufficient to bring the contagion under control in the country and take necessary measures to guarantee voter safety.
“Not only when it comes to voting but life in general, in the workplace, in transportation and so on. So we need those 30 days,” he added during a live video conference.
Putin said the health of Russians “remains, without a doubt, the first and most important priority”.
Russian health chief Anna Popova said during the video conference that the plebiscite, which will see more than 100 million called to vote, will be “absolutely safe” and ruled out the possibility it could lead to a spike in infections.
Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, also proposed 1 July for the vote.
She said masks and gloves should be worn at the polling stations and that no more than eight people will be allowed inside at the same time.
“It will be safer than going to the store,” she added.
Russians will be able to vote up to six days in advance and some regions, which are expected to include Moscow and Saint Petersburg, will be able to do so online.
This move has been widely criticized by the opposition over concerns it will promote electoral fraud and prevent the ballot being monitored by independent observers.
The latest polls indicate that at least half of Russians support the reforms, although other surveys found that a third of the population would be willing to join protests over the country’s economic crisis.
Voters will be asked a single question: whether they approve the changes to the country’s constitution.
They must answer yes or no to the bill, even though it includes almost 200 amendments.
The referendum was originally scheduled to take place on 22 April but was delayed due to the pandemic. EFE-EPA