Vladimir Putin postpones vote to extend his rule

Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed a national vote to extend his reign by 12 years, bowing to increased pressure to delay after being warned that the country’s coronavirus epidemic was much worse than his government data did not suggest.

The turnaround is a blow to Mr Putin, who needs the public vote to complete his quick rewrite of the constitution in order to extend his control of the Kremlin beyond 2024 but found his political plans disorganized by the spread of Covid. 19.

Putin, who had previously sworn that the April 22 vote would take place while stressing that the spread of the disease was “under control”, used a national address on Tuesday to announce his U-turn, hours after the number of Covid-19. cases in Russia jumped by a third in its highest daily increase.

“You know how seriously I feel about this [vote]”Putin said in a grim speech broadcast on television. “However, our top priority is the health and safety of our people, which is why I think it is necessary to move the vote to a later date.”

Putin said a new date will be chosen once the magnitude of the epidemic is better understood. He did not use the speech to impose a large-scale quarantine on Russia, as many European cities have done, but announced a “long weekend” which would run from Saturday March 28 to Sunday April 5 , basically asking people not to go. to work next week.

The hastily arranged speech, announced hours before it took place, came a day after the mayor of Moscow and Putin’s former chief of staff publicly warned the president that the number of people infected was “much more” than his government admitted, and that the health system was at risk of being overwhelmed.

Despite Tuesday’s jump in cases, which brought Russia’s total to 658, the country reported far fewer cases than any other major European country.

This has led experts to question the level of testing and methodology used by Moscow, and has led some analysts to suspect that the Kremlin was trying to keep its cool in order to hold the vote next month.

“It is impossible to prevent the virus from entering our state. What we can do, we are already doing, ”said Putin in his speech on Tuesday. “The main priority is the life and health of our citizens.”

The constitutional changes, which Mr. Putin suggested in a shocking announcement in January, were precipitated by a rapidly constituted drafting committee and were approved by both houses of parliament last month.

The final hurdle is a national plebiscite and, if the changes were approved by the majority of the public, they would reduce Mr. Putin’s presidential terms to zero. This would allow him to run twice more after 2024, when he will have completed four presidential terms.

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