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World Russians hit the reset button for Putin, but questions of legitimacy linger over his long-term rule

00:40  01 july  2020
00:40  01 july  2020 Source:   cnn.com

Kremlin chief Putin does not rule out renewed candidacy

 Kremlin chief Putin does not rule out renewed candidacy Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin is keeping a new candidacy open in four years if the greatest constitutional change in Russian history is confirmed in a referendum. © Photo: Alexei Nikolsky / Pool Sputnik Kremlin / AP / dpa Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin could imagine another term as president. "I haven't decided anything yet," said the 67-year-old in a film by the state television Rossija 1, which was to be broadcast on Sunday.

President Vladimir Putin has made a last-ditch appeal to Russians to vote for controversial amendments to the constitution that among other But if the constitutional changes are approved, Putin ’s term -limit clock would be reset to zero -- opening the way for him to run for reelection when

Putin 'for life'. Among other changes, the reforms would reset Putin 's presidential term -limit clock to zero, allowing him to run two more times and potentially stay in the Kremlin until 2036. Yet it comes as Putin is suffering historically low approval ratings over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic

On Wednesday, voters across Russia will have a chance to hit the reset button for Vladimir Putin: A national referendum will decide whether to approve a raft of constitutional amendments that will allow the Russian president to run for two more terms in office, potentially extending his tenure until 2036.

A man casts a ballot at a polling station in Moscow on Tuesday. © Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images A man casts a ballot at a polling station in Moscow on Tuesday.

At first glance, everything seems to be going to plan for the Kremlin. Back in March, Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian MP from the ruling United Russia party, called in a theatrically staged parliament session for a constitutional amendment that would allow Putin to run for president again after his current term ends in 2024.

Russia voted to pass a law that claims to limit presidential power, but a cynical loophole means Putin can rule until 2036

  Russia voted to pass a law that claims to limit presidential power, but a cynical loophole means Putin can rule until 2036 President Vladimir Putin, who is set to end his final term in 2024, would now be allowed to run again right away and could rule until he is 83.In January, Putin proposed a number of amendments to the Russian constitution, which has rarely been altered since it came into law in 1993. The Russian parliament had already voted to pass the bill in March, but Putin wanted a public referendum to signal his popularity.

Vladimir Putin 's approval rating remained above 80% for a long time, but over the past year it has When asked what traits Putin represents, many average Russians use terms like: "courage Russia ’s annexation of Crimea was very popular domestically, and following this Putin 's rating

The ruling , slammed by Kremlin critics as a sham, approves constitutional changes to free the Russian president from term limits. But these limits were swept aside last week by lawmakers who voted to reset the clock to zero when Mr. Putin ’s term runs out, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms .

It was a move laden with patriotic symbolism: Tereshkova, a former cosmonaut and the first woman to fly in space, is a living connection to the days of Soviet achievement.

Putin appeared in the parliament building just an hour and a half later to endorse the proposal, which then sailed through both houses and the country's constitutional court. But plans for a yes-or-no referendum on the constitutional amendments on April 22 were put on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the rescheduled balloting is now going ahead, backed by a get-out-the-vote blitz.

But more is at stake than just a resetting of term limits. The vote has also become a referendum on the system that has been built around Putin during his two decades in power. As many observers of Russia note, Putin's system of "vertical power" makes him the final arbiter among elites, and their fortunes are, quite literally, tied to him remaining in charge.

Generation Putin comes of age as Russians vote on extending his rule

  Generation Putin comes of age as Russians vote on extending his rule Generation Putin comes of age as Russians vote on extending his ruleThe pair may be of the same generation, but politically they are worlds apart, a contrast that shows how the divisions created by Putin's politics could last for years.

Putin 's hold over power in Russia . Show. Putin consolidates his centralised control of power by cruising to a second term as president with 71% of the Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images. The question of whom Putin will name as his successor has been guessed at widely. But Putin ’s remarks were a “distinct signal” that he would not remain president after his current term ends

The charisma-challenged Russian ’s advisors had always believed his boyish enthusiasm for Surkov believed the key to Medvedev securing a second term was ensuring that Putin didn’t object. The question was whether to do it privately or publicly. After reading online comments openly mocking

Russia in 2020 is not a dictatorship in the classic sense: Putin depends on regular elections as a kind of plebiscite to lend legitimacy to his rule. To be sure, Russia's political system lacks checks and balances: The parliament is packed with loyalists and what Russians call a "pocket" (i.e. powerless) opposition; the president has wide latitude to hire and fire regional leadership; and the courts defer to executive power.

But Putin must follow the letter of the law: After all, he did leave the office to Dmitry Medvedev, staying in power behind the scenes during a four-year interregnum while the new president changed the constitution.

What followed is instructive today: Medvedev introduced a set of constitutional reforms that increased presidential terms to six from four years, and allowed Putin to run again. But widespread allegations of voting fraud that followed 2011 parliamentary elections led to a wave of pro-democracy protests that deeply worried the Kremlin.

Kremlin hails vote allowing Putin to extend his rule a triumph as critics cry foul

  Kremlin hails vote allowing Putin to extend his rule a triumph as critics cry foul Kremlin hails vote allowing Putin to extend his rule a triumph as critics cry foulMOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Thursday hailed as a triumph the result of a nationwide vote that handed President Vladimir Putin the right to run for two more terms, but an independent monitoring group said the vote had not been free and the outcome was flawed.

The Russian President told federal television on Sunday that he hasn't decided on whether he will put his name forward for election again or leave frontline politics. A constitutional amendments package, to be put to a public vote that concludes on July 1, would give him the option of running for Russia 's

Jean-Yves Le Drian greets his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, 2017 © The US and the UK led the charge to impose sanctions on Moscow over Crimea and pressured France to With US President Donald Trump questioning old alliances and embracing a more isolationist position in

Will Wednesday's referendum prompt the same challenge to Putin, or a new wave of street protests? That is difficult to predict, but members of the country's small and embattled opposition have already raised questions about tampering and irregularities in the referendum, which has been opened for early voting since last week, a measure cast by election officials as a coronavirus precaution to allow social distancing.

Some Russians have taken to social media to show their preference, posting NYET (no) on their profiles. Residents of Moscow and other large cities glued anti-Putin stickers next to pro-amendments posters. Others have taken note of a curious fact: Copies of the constitution recently went on sale in bookstores, with the amendments already included, something widely commented on in social media. That suggested to many Russians that the fix was in.

State-run pollster VTsIOM on Monday released early results from exit polling that suggest Putin will win approval for the amendments: According to those results, around 76% of respondents at 800 polling stations around Russia said they supported the constitutional changes.

Pompeo does not rule out that Putin will be invited to the G7

 Pompeo does not rule out that Putin will be invited to the G7 © Provided by Le Point The government of President Donald Trump reaffirmed Wednesday that it has shown firmness towards Russia in Afghanistan , but left the door open for participation Vladimir Putin at an enlarged G7 summit. The executive has come under fire from critics since American media reported over the weekend that Russian agents had distributed money to fighters "close to the Taliban" to kill American soldiers or of NATO in Afghanistan.

The Russian reset was an attempt by the Obama administration to improve relations between the United States and Russia in 2009. Unfortunately, and I mean it when I say unfortunately, as the Chancellor pointed out this morning, President Putin has chosen a different path.

This week, Russians are taking part in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that would clear I doubt the current president will run for another term ," she said. Putin 's approval rating is at its lowest Russian state opinion pollster said on Monday that its exit polls showed that 76% of Russians had so

Putin's popularity has taken a hit during coronavirus, but his approval ratings are still high. And the constitutional amendments include some provisions -- for instance, language that enshrines marriage as being solely between a man and a woman -- that will appeal to a segment of conservative voters.

Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie: Putin addresses the nation on the eve of the main day of voting. © Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images Putin addresses the nation on the eve of the main day of voting.

There is little to suggest the result will not satisfy the Kremlin, but the apparatus of the state has been working overtime to increase the voter turnout to add legitimacy to controversial changes. A massive campaign for the vote launched by authorities on all levels has a range of appeals: TV ads promising great social benefits, billboards showing happy families that voted 'Yes' and brochures with recipes and crosswords plastered on the entrances to residential buildings. But the official ad campaign for the referendum does not highlight that the constitution could solidify Putin's reign until he is 84 and give him immunity from prosecution when he retires.

The same goes for Putin's own messaging. In a short video clip released Tuesday, Putin appears before a new monument to Soviet soldiers and urges Russians to vote for "stability, security, and prosperity," saying a new constitution means a future with good healthcare, education and an "effective government beholden to the public." He makes no mention of the resetting of his term limits.

Russians give Putin the chance to stay in power until 2036 after historic vote

  Russians give Putin the chance to stay in power until 2036 after historic vote Russians have overwhelmingly voted in favor of changes to the country's constitution that enable President Vladimir Putin to potentially stay in power up to 2036. Critics have said there were numerous voting irregularities. © Provided by CNBC Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station after a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow on July 1, 2020.

Independent voting monitors have also raised questions about widespread reports of voting violations. Even before the vote kicked off last week, independent outlets and NGOs posted dozens of screenshots and audio messages suggesting forced voting by employers of big corporations and state-financed organizations.

a group of people wearing costumes: Voting by mobile ballot box in Moscow on Monday. © Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images Voting by mobile ballot box in Moscow on Monday.

"In the past few days we have also seen a large numbers of ballot stuffing, so it feels like at some stage it was clear to [the organizers] that the administrative resources to mobilize controlled electorate are running out, they may also be voting in a slightly different way compared to a desired one and they've resorted to good old ways of rigging," Stanislav Andreychuk, co-charman of the non-governmental group Golos, told CNN.

According to Andreychuk, this plebiscite is way less regulated than previous elections his organization monitored: Voting booths set up on park benches violate the secrecy of voting, the usual restrictions on releasing exit polls are not enforced and unregulated campaigning -- aided by raffles promising apartments to lure voters to stations -- muddy the voter's right to freely exercise their will.

Asked about anecdotal evidence of voting irregularities, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov questioned reports shared on local media about polling stations being set up in the trunks of cars or on park benches.

"The interest in voting is great, but it's too early to draw conclusions, wait, it's just begun," he said in response to questions on a conference call with reporters.

Putin has already signaled strongly that he will run, and that talk of stepping down from office is a needless distraction. In an interview that aired on state television in the run-up to the vote, Putin said he had "not ruled out" running for another term if voters approve the constitutional amendments.

"If this [constitutional change] does not happen, in two years -- I know this from my own experience -- instead of normal, steady work at various levels of power, everyone will start looking around for possible successors," he said. "We need to get on with work, not look for successors."

Still, the referendum has a chance to cast a cloud on Putin's potential re-election -- and theoretically, on his next two terms in office.

a group of people on a sidewalk: An outdoor polling station in Saint Petersburg. © Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images An outdoor polling station in Saint Petersburg.

Russia's constitutional changes to come into force on July 4 - Kremlin .
Russia's constitutional changes to come into force on July 4 - KremlinThe electorate overwhelmingly supported the changes, which were approved after a nationwide week of voting that came to an end on Wednesday, with almost 78% of people casting their ballot in favour.

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