Tue, 04 Aug 2020

MOSCOW -- On the penultimate day of a weeklong vote on one of the biggest projects of his 20-year rule, a constitutional overhaul that comes with the option of seeking two more Kremlin terms, President Vladimir Putin went on Russian TV screens with a direct appeal to viewers.

'We are voting not only for constitutional changes,' he said, backdropped by a newly unveiled monument to Soviet soldiers who died fighting in World War II. 'We are voting for the country we want to live in.'

In a three-minute speech, Putin twice reiterated that the changes would only be valid if a majority of those casting ballots voted for them. He neglected to mention the clause that allows him to dodge term limits and potentially remain president until 2036.

The June 30 speech was the first of Putin's many recent TV overtures to focus entirely on the constitutional changes, and perhaps his final chance to boost turnout ahead of the final day of balloting on July 1. The vote has been slammed by critics as a shameless power grab and boycotted by much of the opposition, and the changes criticized by constitutional scholars as contradictory.

'The constitutional amendments serve Putin's short-term political goals while enabling him to avoid any lame-duck status,' William Pomeranz, an expert on Russian law and deputy director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, told RFE/RL. 'The retention of power, as opposed to any far-off historical legacy, appears to be the driving force.'

In advancing his own version of the constitution, Putin -- who has been in power as Russian president or prime minister since 1999 -- follows a long tradition. Russia and the U.S.S.R. went through seven constitutions in the 20th century, with changes to the basic law made under Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, and Leonid Brezhnev, and again under Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russia that emerged from the Soviet collapse of 1991.

'Creating an essentially new constitution will make him a kind of founding father,' Moscow-based political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann said of Putin, who as recently as 2018 proudly emphasized that he had never altered the constitution.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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