Jun 1, 2020 - World

Putin sets referendum that could allow him to rule until 2036 for July 1

Putin has not seemed to enjoy governing by video conference. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set July 1 as the new date for a constitutional referendum that could allow him to remain in power through 2036.

Why it matters: Putin was forced to delay the referendum from April due to the coronavirus pandemic, and has set the date despite Russia's continued struggles to contain its outbreak. Putin's popularity has fallen in recent weeks amid his response to the pandemic and its economic repercussions.

The backstory: Putin has largely delegated the COVID-19 response to local officials, an unfamiliar approach from a man who has cultivated a strongman image over two decades in power.

  • He did declare a vaguely defined "non-working period," which ended on May 11.
  • The more passive Putin is not particularly popular. His approval rating has fallen to a historically low, if still enviable, 59%, according to the Levada Center.

Where things stand: Russia has recorded the third most COVID-19 cases, behind the U.S. and Brazil, but is believed to be massively undercounting deaths — officially at 4,855 — because only fatalities that can be directly tied to the disease are included in the tally.

  • Last week, Russia's health ministry announced it would only count people showing symptoms as having contracted or died of COVID-19.
  • Russia recorded roughly 9,000 new cases per day over the past week, down from a peak of around 11,000 in early May but still among the highest rates in the world.

What to watch: The referendum would allow Putin, 67, to seek two additional six-year terms following his current mandate, along with other changes to the constitution.

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