Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that could extend his rule in the Kremlin would be held on July 1, after the April 22 vote was postponed due to the novel coronavirus.
The changes, already approved by parliament and Russia’s Constitutional Court, would reset Putin’s presidential term tally to zero, allowing him to serve two more back-to-back six-year terms until 2036 if reelected.
“We will carry out the national vote on amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation on July 1,” Putin said in a video call with election officials, after the vote was delayed from April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Putin announced a series of surprise constitutional reforms earlier this year, including a provision that would reset the clock on his term limits to zero.
This would allow Putin, 67, to run for president again when his fourth term expires in 2024, and potentially to stay in power until 2036.
A public vote on the reforms had been planned for April 22 but had to be postponed after Russia saw a surge in coronavirus cases that has since seen it record the world’s third-highest number of cases.
The rise in infections has been declining in recent days, prompting Putin to announce an easing of lockdown measures and the rescheduling of a May 9 Victory Day parade for June 24.
He said last week that Russia had passed the peak of the pandemic and told officials on Monday that it was time to plan again for the vote.
“As the situation with the pandemic improves we of course are returning to normal life, including the need to think about further work on amendments to the constitution,” Putin said.
He added that officials needed to pay “special attention” to safety issues in organising the vote, saying public health needed to be the “first and foremost priority.”
Critics have denounced the constitutional reforms as a power grab by Putin, 20 years after he first came to power.
Putin served the maximum two consecutive terms between 2000 and 2008 before a four-year stint as prime minister.
He returned to the Kremlin in 2012 for a newly expanded six-year mandate and was re-elected to a fourth Kremlin term in 2018.