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Putin Set for Big Win in Vote That May Extend His Rule to 2036

Russian President Vladimir Putin is on course to secure a resounding endorsement of his bid to extend his two-decade-long rule potentially up to 2036, as the Kremlin faces criticism for its heavy-handed efforts to marshal support.

Putin, a former KGB colonel who came to power in 2000, is already the longest-serving Russian leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The Russian leader has proposed a revised constitution that would give him the right to run for two more six-year terms after his current mandate runs out in 2024.

Amid rising public discontent, officials have been pulling out all the stops to ensure a high turnout and resounding approval in a vote Putin wasn’t obliged to call. They’ve wooed Russians with populist sweeteners such as an effective constitutional ban on gay marriage, along with prize drawings for voters, while blocking any campaigning against a ‘yes’ vote.

While a simple majority in favor and a turnout exceeding 50% of eligible voters is all that’s required, the Kremlin will be satisfied only with an overwhelming endorsement of more than 70% on both measures, according to Alexei Mukhin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information.

Putin, 67, is confronting a slump in his approval ratings as Russia’s economy reels under the impact of the coronavirus epidemic and a collapse in oil prices. Once the referendum is out of the way, the Russian president will face the task of navigating through one of the deepest recessions of his time in office.

Putin caught even many in his inner circle by surprise in January when he announced plans to carry out the most extensive reform of the constitution since it was adopted in 1993. But the clause allowing him to sidestep term limits didn’t appear until March, even if some officials later suspected that had been his plan all along.

Putin’s popularity rating at 60% — though still respectable by western standards — is around the lowest levels since he became president in 2000, according to the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow.

After years of stagnation, Russia’s economy may shrink by 6.6% this year, the worst contraction since 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund. Real incomes are falling, while unemployment climbed to 6.1% in May from 4.7% in March.

Putin sought to win over ordinary Russians on the eve of the vote by unveiling fresh cash payments for families and the unemployed and a tax increase for the rich.

Putin Set for Big Win in Vote That May Extend His Rule to 2036, Bloomberg, Jul 1

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