Russians set to back reforms allowing Vladimir Putin to extend rule

Russians set to back reforms allowing Vladimir Putin to extend rule
Russian President Vladimir Putin, above at a voting at a polling station in Moscow, said in recent interview that he had not made up his mind about whether to run again. (Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Short Url
Updated 01 July 2020

Russians set to back reforms allowing Vladimir Putin to extend rule

Russians set to back reforms allowing Vladimir Putin to extend rule
  • Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic
  • Kremlin is keen to see a high voter turnout and makeshift polling stations cropped across the country

MOSCOW: Russians are set to approve constitutional reforms on Wednesday denounced by critics as a maneuver to allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in the Kremlin for life.
The changes were passed weeks ago by Russia’s parliament and copies of the new constitution are already on sale in bookshops, but Putin says a nationwide vote ending Wednesday is essential to give legitimacy to the plans.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures — like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage — but crucially for Putin will also reset presidential term limits allowing him to potentially remain in power until 2036.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage turnout, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes — including apartments and cars — on offer to voters.
Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases.
There is little doubt the reforms will be approved, with a state-run exit poll of more than 163,000 voters this week showing 76 percent in favor.
Results are expected to be announced after the last polling stations close at 1800 GMT.
Putin says the changes are needed to ensure stability and cement Russian values in the face of pernicious Western influences.
“We are voting for the country... we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren,” he said Tuesday in a final appeal to voters.
“We can ensure stability, security, prosperity and a decent life only through development, only together and by ourselves.”
State television showed Putin voting on Wednesday at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was handed a ballot by an electoral worker wearing a surgical mask and gloves.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Putin was not wearing any protective gear.
At a polling station in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, 79-year-old Valentina Kungurtseva told AFP she supported the reforms.
“For us as pensioners, it’s very important that they will increase our pension every year,” she said, adding that she had no problem with resetting presidential terms.
“As long as we have a good president, life will be good,” she said.
But Oleg Dubov, a 55-year-old engineer, said there was no need for the amendments or for Putin to be able to run again.
“We should not stagnate,” he said. “I believe there should be change, even if I respect him very much and value him as president.”
Critics say the reforms are a cover for Putin to extend his rule after 20 years in power.
Chief opposition campaigner Alexei Navalny said Putin, 67, wants to make himself “president for life” and has called for a boycott.
But the opposition — divided, weakened by years of political repression and with little access to state-controlled media — has failed to mount a serious “no” campaign. Restrictions on mass gatherings imposed by the coronavirus have also prevented demonstrations.
Golos, an independent election monitor, says it has received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers are putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.
The Kremlin is keen to see a high voter turnout and makeshift polling stations cropped across the country, including some in buses, tents and on street benches that were ridiculed on social media.
Putin’s approval rating has suffered in recent months, in part over early mistakes in the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, and stood at 60 percent in June according to pollster Levada, down 20 points from the months after his re-election in 2018.
Analysts say Putin wanted to get the vote over with before Russians — already suffering from several years of falling incomes — are hit by the full economic impact of the pandemic.
Putin said in a recent interview that he had not made up his mind about whether to run again and suggested part of the reason for the presidential reset was to allow Russia’s political elite to focus on governing instead of “hunting for possible successors.”


Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

Updated 04 December 2020

Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

Militants open fire and burn police car in Philippine town

COTABATO, Philippines: Dozens of militants aligned with the Daesh group opened fire on a Philippine army detachment and burned a police patrol car in a southern town but withdrew after troops returned fire, officials said Friday.
There were no immediate reports of injuries in Thursday night’s brief attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Datu Piang town. Nevertheless it sparked panic among residents and rekindled fears of a repeat of a 2017 militant siege of southern Marawi city that lasted for five months before being quelled by government forces.
“We are on top of the situation. This is just an isolated case,” regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. said in a statement.
Security officials gave differing statements on the motive of the 30 to 50 gunmen. Some said the militants targeted Datu Piang’s police chief over a feud but others speculated that the militants wanted to project that they are still a force to reckon with by attacking the army detachment in the center of the predominantly Muslim town.
Officials denied earlier reports that the militants managed to seize a police station and burn a Roman Catholic church.
When reinforcement troops in armored carriers arrived and opened fire, the militants fled toward a marshland, military officials said.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is one of a few small armed groups waging a separatist rural insurrection in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation. The groups opposed a 2014 autonomy deal forged by the largest Muslim rebel group in the south with the Philippine government and have continued on and off attacks despite being weakened by battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism.
The armed groups include the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings.