The last hurdle was actually behind Vladimir Putin. The Russian president wanted the population to vote on his constitutional change on April 22. With this reform, Putin immortalized his understanding of values in the constitution and weakened the separation of powers. The changes also allow him to run for two more terms as president. But the pandemic now makes Putin’s political future appear more uncertain than before. He had to postpone the vote.
Putin had carried out all other steps almost like a robbery. For a long time the discussion was about how to incorporate values such as belief, family and heroism into the constitution. At the same time, Putin redistributed the tasks of the institutions, strengthened the office of president, and weakened the courts. At the last minute he came to the Duma with a surprise: a member of parliament had expressed the wish she had been told to put Putin’s four terms with the reform to zero. Only in this way can he start again in 2024 and 2030.
The president needs the vote to make his trick look legit
Putin is breaking the rules of the old and new constitution. In order to make his trick look legitimate, he needs the vote. Although it is not legally binding, it serves cosmetics and Putin has promised it to people.
However, the pandemic makes it less likely that the vote will actually make him look good. Many lose their income and possibly their jobs. Government aid is minimal. Putin does not convince as a leader in the crisis. In March, his approval ratings were only 63 percent – lower than the average for the often unpopular regional chiefs.
The government-affiliated institute Wziom published a poll on April 22, the planned voting day, according to which two-thirds voted for the reform. Figures from the independent Lewada Center show a different picture: in mid-March, only 48 percent of those questioned were in favour of reforming and resetting Putin’s terms, 47 percent against. A survey from the end of March is even more impressive: 58 percent said that the president should not be older than 70 years. Putin will be 72 in 2024.
The pandemic is now giving the opposition more time to rally. At first, she had argued over whether the 1993 constitution was worth defending. In the meantime, however, there have been several online petitions against the reform. More than 420 academics, journalists and lawyers signed a public letter against the “unconstitutional coup d’état”. And opposition politicians have announced a live protest on YouTube for next week – for more help during the pandemic and against constitutional reform.