President Vladimir Putin postponed a planned public vote on constitutional changes next month that would allow him to rule to 2036 as the country attempts to stem the spread of the coronavirus, a setback for the Russian leader.
Saying Russia couldn’t cut itself off from the pandemic, he announced next week would be a non-working one, though said workers would still be paid.
Putin, 67, has rushed through the amendments to the constitution and promised Russians the final say, but the vote scheduled for April 22 will now be held at a date to be determined later, the president announced in a hastily arranged national address Wednesday.
Though its totals remain well below those in some big European countries, Russia reported coronavirus cases jumped by a third over the past day to 658. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin Tuesday that the official numbers don’t reflect the “full picture” given a lack of testing.
Authorities have closed the borders to foreigners and restricted international flights, shut schools, closed some public venues and confined elderly people to their homes in Moscow. While the government so far has ruled out a lock-down in the capital, state news service RIA Novosti reported Sunday that the government is leaning toward imposing stricter quarantine measures, citing an unidentified official.
Putin Wednesday ordered the military to conduct checks of its readiness to help with virus-containment efforts, the Defense Ministry said.
The delay to the vote slows the momentum behind a vital initiative for Putin, who has put his weight behind a move that would allow him two more six-year presidential terms once his current mandate ends in 2024. Prior to this month, the Russian leader had repeatedly ruled out changes that would allow him to remain president.
While Putin was reluctant to delay the vote, holding it in the midst of a public health scare is impossible, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies the elite at the State University of Management in Moscow. “People are focused on survival right now, they’re not even thinking about politics,” she said.
Russian consumers have been stripping stores bare of supplies like buckwheat and canned meat amid growing alarm about the spread of coronavirus.
Officials said last week that Russia’s health system is stepping up efforts to offer testing more widely, with 100,000 new test kits being produced a day.
Russia’s economy could slide into recession this year as it’s set to suffer a double shock from the fallout from coronavirus and Putin’s break with the OPEC oil cartel over efforts to control output, which has sent crude prices into a tailspin.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.