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Putin postpones Russian vote on constitutional amendments that would let him run for president again

Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, speaks during his annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Jan. 15, 2020.

ANDREY RUDAKOV/BLOOMBERG

By ISABELLE KHURSHUDYAN | The Washington Post | Published: March 25, 2020

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MOSCOW — Russia will postpone its vote on a package of constitutional amendments that would enable President Vladimir Putin to run for two more terms as the country adopts stricter measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote was set for April 22, but in a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin said, “I will ask you to come and vote, but later.” No new date has been set.

Putin also announced a suspension of all nonessential work for the country next week, still promising to pay salaries and encouraging citizens to stay home during that time.

“We are managing to hold back the virus, but Russia can’t completely seal itself off from the threat,” Putin said.

Russia has said it has 658 confirmed coronavirus cases, a relatively low total for its population of 145 million. That enabled Moscow to avoid the large-scale commercial closures, curfews and stay-home orders that other European and Asian countries have adopted.

But in a meeting with Putin on Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the country likely has “significantly” more cases than the official numbers show. Putin then visited one of the Moscow region’s coronavirus hospitals, donning a full hazmat suit. The country announced 163 new cases Wednesday, by far the largest one-day increase.

“Please do not think that it won’t concern me,” Putin said in his address. “This might concern everyone, and what is happening now in European countries might become our future.”

The delay of the nationwide vote on changing the constitution is a blow to Putin’s main project for the year. He first introduced amendments, including stricter limits on presidential terms, in his January address to parliament. Then earlier this month, State Duma Deputy Valentina Tereshkova, beloved nationally as the first woman in space, said that a reconstructed constitution should give Putin a clean slate of presidential terms, meaning he could run twice more for the presidency once his current term expires in 2024.

The measure was approved overwhelmingly by parliament and then greenlighted by the country’s Constitutional Court. Putin, 67, has been in power for 20 years, and two more presidential terms would mean he would rule Russia until 2036, when he turns 83.

The coronavirus pandemic also could lead to the cancellation of Russia’s Victory Day parade on May 9 — the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien are among the confirmed guests for the military parade.

“Certainly, this issue is being discussed, no decisions have been made yet, and preparations are continuing,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.

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