Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say
A woman holds a placard reading "Boycott to Putin's amendments" as she protests against amendments to the Constitution of Russia on Dvortsovaya Square in downtown Saint Petersburg on July 1, 2020, as Russians vote in the final day of a ballot on constitutional reforms allowing President Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say
  • There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year
  • The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week

MOSCOW: Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.
With almost 30 percent of polling stations reporting after the end of six days of voting, 74 percent of voters had supported the reforms, the central election commission said.
There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a manoeuvre to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life.
The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia's parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures -- like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage -- but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024.
Turnout as of 1700 GMT was just under 65 percent, the election commission said.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, 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.
In a final appeal to voters on Tuesday, Putin said the changes were needed to ensure Russia's future "stability, security, prosperity".
State television showed Putin voting 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.
In the second city, Saint Petersburg, 20-year-old Sergei Goritsvetov said he opposed the reforms but doubted it would make any difference.
"I voted against and I hope there will be many of us, but I don't know what it will change," he said. "At least I expressed my opinion."
Chief opposition campaigner Alexei Navalny said Putin, 67 and in power as president or prime minister since 2000, wants to make himself "president for life" and called for a boycott.
But the opposition -- divided, weakened by years of political repression and with little access to state-controlled media -- failed to mount a serious "no" campaign.
Golos, an independent election monitor, said it had received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers were putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.
Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova denied any problems on Wednesday, saying: "During the entire voting period no serious violations... were found."
Putin's approval rating has fallen in recent months, in part over early mistakes in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. It 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 decided whether to run again but suggested that 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".


Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department
Updated 16 January 2021

Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

Iran deal architect among veterans named for Biden State Department

WASHINGTON: The lead US negotiator of the Iran nuclear accord and a battle-tested hawk on Russia were named Saturday to top posts at President-elect Joe Biden’s State Department, signaling a return to normal after Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency.
Wendy Sherman, who brokered the Iran accord under Barack Obama and negotiated a nuclear deal with North Korea under Bill Clinton, was named as deputy secretary of state.
Victoria Nuland, a former career diplomat best known for her robust support for Ukrainian protesters in the ouster of a Russian-aligned president, was nominated under secretary for political affairs — the State Department’s third-ranking post in charge of day-to-day US diplomacy.
Biden said that the State Department nominees “have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory.”
“I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership. America is back,” Biden said in a statement.
The State Department team will work under secretary of state-designate Antony Blinken, whose confirmation hearing will take place on Tuesday on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.
Blinken said that the State Department team, with women and ethnic minorities in prominent positions, “looks like America.”
“America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others to meet the challenges of our time,” Blinken said.
The optimism comes amid rising doubts about US leadership in Trump’s waning days after his supporters ransacked the Capitol on January 6 to try to stop the ceremonial certification of Biden’s victory.
Under outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a staunch defender of Trump, the United States has aggressively challenged Iran and China, robustly backed Israel and toyed with improving ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while also imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Sherman’s nomination marks another clear sign that Biden wants to return to the accord under which Iran drastically slashed its nuclear program in exchange for promises of sanctions relief.
Trump exited the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions in what many observers saw as an unsuccessful attempt to topple the Shiite clerical regime.