Putin issues decree ordering April 22 constitutional referendum

Moscow, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday officially set April 22 as the date for a constitutional referendum that could extend his rule until 2036.

“Do you approve of the changes to the Constitution of the Russian Federation?” will be the question put to Russian voters, according to the presidential decree.

Russian media had speculated that the plebiscite would be postponed due to the novel coronavirus, considering that the number of people infected in the country has quadrupled over the past week to 114.

In that regard, the 67-year-old Putin informed the chair of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, immediately after signing the decree that the vote will be held only if the “epidemiological situation” so allows.

“With all the importance of the constitutional changes, there’s nothing more important than the health and life of our citizens,” Putin said.

He added that the Covid-19 situation in Russia, whose government took early measures to prevent the entry of foreign citizens from some of the worst-affected countries, “is generally under control.”

Russian authorities have announced additional measures in recent days to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including one that bars entry to nearly all foreign nationals and stateless people between March 18 and May 1 and another establishing mandatory quarantines for all Russian citizens arriving from the countries most affected by the pandemic.

The Moscow city government, for its part, has prohibited all public events with more than 50 people until April 10 and ordered the closure of schools and museums.

In the referendum, Russians will be asked to approve or reject a single package of proposed constitutional reforms, although that bill contains nearly 200 amendments. The Russian government says approval of the package will require the vote of more than half of those participating in the plebiscite.

The most important amendment is one that would allow Putin to remain in the Kremlin until 2036, when he would be 83; currently, he is constitutionally required to step down in May 2024, at which point he would have served two consecutive six-year terms.

Russia’s Constitutional Court on Monday approved Putin’s attempt to reset the count on his presidential terms after the head of state had told parliament that was a pre-condition for his seeking re-election once again.

The amendment that would allow Putin to run for what could be his fifth and sixth presidential terms has been harshly criticized by the opposition and many intellectuals as anti-democratic. EFE-EPA


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