While the world’s attention remains fixed on coping with the coronavirus pandemic, major political developments have been taking place almost unnoticed in Russia.
For those under the age of 20, they have known no other Russian leader other than Vladimir Putin and choreographed efforts are underway to ensure this remains the case until at least 2036.
Putin has recently asked the constitutional courts to legally change the constitution which would allow him to remain in power for the next 16 years. This unprecedented move first proposed in January was requested during a discussion of constitutional changes within the lower Houses of Parliament.
Valentina Tereshkova, a lawmaker from the United Russia party, proposed an amendment that would set the presidential term limit to zero. The proposal has since been adopted by the State Duma and has been assessed as legal by the constitutional courts. The public vote is due on 22 April 2020.
Russian state-controlled media have been echoing the Kremlin’s narrative, stating that this move is necessary to ensure stability in uncertain times. Russian officials have addressed state media with speeches outlining their underlying support. However, the reform is not universally supported, attracting widespread discontent which is expected to lead to rebellious activities in response.
Liberal media outlet ‘Novaya Gazeta’ have denounced the proposal, proclaiming the Presidential term limit as ‘pointless’ if this is approved.
Opposing Facebook groups are beginning to emerge, organising widespread protests to show solidarity and resistance against the changes. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has since issued a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 5000 people as a measure to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Some critics report the ban as ‘more than coincidental.’
Alongside organised protests, a petition has been set up to collect signatures against the proposed constitutional changes. In response to this, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor, has banned access to the website.
The Russian authorities have acted fast to prevent a major public outburst.
Leonid Volkov, called it ‘a coup d’etat, technically speaking’, while activists launched pickets under St Vladimir’s statue near the Kremlin’s walls.
This is not the first time Putin has decided to prolong his rule and he faced an unprecedented wave of protests which rocked Moscow for several months in the winter of 2011-2012.
In the end, he survived the protests and remained a popular president amidst active, repressive measures and political manoeuvring.