Putin says he is considering another term as Russian president: ‘We need to work, not look for successors’

Voting begins on Thursday over constitutional amendments that would enable Russia’s president to remain in power until 2036

Oliver Carroll
Moscow
Wednesday 24 June 2020 12:43
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Vladimir Putin has defended his decision to reset constitutional term limits, claiming that the alternative would undermine the “normal rhythm of government”.

“People would begin prowling for possible successors,” the Russian president said on Sunday. “We need to work, not look for successors.”

Speaking in an extended interview on Russian state television, Mr Putin said he had not made any decision about his future and “did not exclude” the prospect of running for election for the fifth time: “We will see, things will be clearer later.”

This week sees the start of nationwide voting on constitutional amendments, technically already passed, that would enable Russia’s long-time leader to rule until 2036. The vote had been scheduled for April 22, but was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Opponents of the changes accuse the Kremlin of orchestrating a constitutional coup and removing the possibility of a transfer of power.

The Kremlin on its part appears to be uncharacteristically nervous about the way the vote is heading.

Most official literature concerning the vote has played down the main amendment – the resetting of term limits – and has concentrated instead on populist changes about faith in God and marriage as the union of man and woman.

Posters advertising the vote urge voters to “say yes to the future” – and depict happy, young, heterosexual families.

At one point, the official voting website even omitted any mention of the crucial resetting clause. Mr Putin’s spokesperson later attributed the oversight to a “technical error”.

Even before the appearance of the coronavirus, Mr Putin’s poll ratings were at historical lows. Since then, the president’s faltering crisis management — and the absence of any real financial assistance — has added to perceptions of him being cut off from his ordinary Russians.

Levada Centre, an independent polling organisation, now suggests that only 59 per cent of Russians retain trust in the president. That number falls to 29 per cent when people are offered the chance to name other politicians in an “open” question designed to imitate a free process.

A new poll published last week on attitudes to the president’s rescheduled Second World War parade also indicated that Mr Putin’s electoral base, the so-called “Putin majority”, is cracking. Overall, an overwhelming majority (more than 70 per cent) disagreed with the premise of continuing with a military parade in the middle of the pandemic. The number was highest (89 per cent) in Mr Putin’s traditionally most loyal group of those aged 75 and over.

Given the stakes at play, few believe that the upcoming contest will be entirely fair.

Already there are reports of voter fraud. Last week, a journalist at the liberal Dozhd television station exposed a scheme to register elderly Muscovites for electronic voting without their knowledge. Organisers were reportedly ready to pay 75 roubles (87p) per account registered, and 50 roubles per vote cast, the journalist revealed.

Russian authorities responded to the vote-buying claims by sending anti-extremism officers to the station’s Moscow studios late on Wednesday night.

Russia’s opposition is split between those calling for a boycott of the vote – and those agitating to vote against.

Those choosing the latter can face hostile receptions. On Sunday, two activists were assaulted in St Petersburg as they put up posters arguing against the constitutional changes. Their unidentified assailants apparently explained their behaviour by claiming they were “for Putin” and “against traitors”.

One of the activists came away with several serious injuries, including bleeding within the skull.

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