Moscow, 25 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) — A referendum on constitutional amendments, including one that would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to run for re-election, will be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Putin announced Wednesday.
The referendum on sweeping changes to the Russian constitution, including to increase the authority of parliament, which is dominated by politicians loyal to Putin, had been scheduled for next month, on April 22.
Putin announced in a televised speech that, because of the pandemic, it is “necessary” to postpone the referendum, without saying what date it would take place.
He recommended that Russians stay at home to avoid contracting the virus.
Russia has reported more than 650 cases of the new coronavirus, predominantly in its capital and largest city, Moscow.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned Putin this week that the actual number of cases could be “significantly more” than reported.
Putin, 67, has been in power as president or prime minister for two decades.
He is the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.
According to the current constitution, a president is allowed to serve for two consecutive terms.
Putin served two consecutive four-year terms from 2000 to 2008, then stepped aside as prime minister, during which time the constitution was amended to provide six-year terms. Putin was re-elected as president in 2012 and then again in 2018.
The new changes to the constitution would let Putin run for re-election twice more, theoretically enabling him to remain president for another 16 years from now.
The amendments also include establishing a minimum wage and pension allocations based on the cost of living, aspects that could help to convince the populace to vote in favor.
The amendments would also enshrine a ban on gay marriage in Russia’s constitution, as well as an attestation of faith in God, a marked departure from the atheist doctrine of the Soviet Union.