Alwaght- Russia on Thursday kicked off early voting in a week long national referendum on amendments to the country's constitution.
Over the past two decades, Vladimir Putin has been the uncontested man of political power in Russian politics. Once the new constitutional changes are approved by people, he will take a long step towards staying in power for two more terms. According to the current law, he has to leave power after his term ends in 2024.
What do the constitutional amendments change?
The amendments to the 1993 constitution were announced in January and approved by the Duma, a lower house of the State Assembly, in March with outright support from the lawmakers.
The most important result of the amendments is that President Putin will be allowed to serve for more two six-year terms in office, until 2036.
The 67-year-old president has been in power for 20 years, longest since the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. After the 2012 elections, he is now serving his second term as president of the Russian Federation. He served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012 as his ally Dmitry Medvedev was serving as president.
In mid-March, polls suggested that his popularity rates were high. However, according to new polls, his popularity dropped to around 59 percent from 69 percent in February. Experts suggest that the outbreak of coronavirus has been influential in this rate drop.
In response to the Western criticism which accuses him of seeking to build a dictatorship, Putin said that he does not utterly seek power for himself. Rather, his measures are part of a step towards further management stability in the country.
Putin suggested the hunt for a candidate to succeed him could become a distraction if he does not run again.
“If this doesn’t happen, then in about two years - and I know this from personal experience - the normal rhythm of work of many parts of the government will be replaced by a search for possible successors,” the Interfax news agency cited him as saying.
“We must be working, not looking for successors,” he said.
Other amendments will allow steps towards respect for the legacy of the country and the Orthodox Church, making sure that the minimum wages will not be under the costs of living, and strengthening the control by Kremlin over the local and municipal officials.
Another change is that the marriage will be described as a union between the man and woman, making same-sex marriage constitutionally illegal.
Referendum overshadowed by coronavirus crisis
The referendum in Russia is taking place while it is the first vote since coronavirus pandemic hit the country along with the world. Moscow has reduced the restrictions imposing a quarantine to cut off the spread chain. Russia is still reporting around 7,000 new cases each day, official figures show.
The vote, originally scheduled for April 22, was delayed amid coronavirus concerns. Election officials said early voting would be held to aid social distancing. Responding to some criticism that finds the timing inappropriate amid the pandemic, the officials say that full health codes are considered in the process and that they regularly disinfect the voting stations. Each station can host only eight people an hour, they added. Also, remote voting is possible, they said.
The important point is that according to the Russian constitution, the yes vote of Duma is sufficient to approve the constitutional changes and thus there is no need for a referendum. So, regardless of the result of the polls, Putin’s amendments face no legal obstacles. In March, Putin requested the parliament to pass a law according to which the constitutional changes would need popular support. The measure by the president is based on his forethought to prevent possible future criticism that would blast him for changes to the constitution contrary to democracy.
US-style controversy making
Since the start of the process to amend the constitution, Western media and officials launched their propaganda campaigns to create discontent inside Russia and label the vote undemocratic.
In addition, in the first day of voting the US embassy in Moscow in a targeted and stunting move against referendum flew the same-sex flag. The action drew criticism from the Kremlin, which called it “illegal”, he noted.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman to the Kremlin, told the journalists in a press conference that the ministry of foreign affairs had its attention on the move. Anyway, any promotion of the symbols of the heterosexual minorities is outlawed under Russian law.
Despite the Western media propaganda against the Kremlin amendments, it seems that Putin has no serious challenges ahead of his movement towards the implementation of the reforms to the constitution. The post-Soviet isolated Russia promoted itself to be an active world power under Putin, seeking involvement and role in a majority of the world issues.