2 Thursday, March 26, 2020 14:01

Coronavirus deals blow to Putin's plans to stay in power until 2036

Moscow (CNN)Russian President Vladimir Putin has long provided other world leaders with a template for authoritarian rule. Now he faces a new test: Whether his top-down system can survive the coronavirus pandemic.In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures to cope with the spread of the virus and its widening economic effects.

Lets not rely on our Russian luck, he said. Please do not think, as we often do: Oh, this will not touch me. It can touch everyone. And then what is happening today in many Western countries, both in Europe and overseas, could become our immediate future.
Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?Some of the measures were meant to soften the economic blow.

Starting on March 28, Russians will have a weeks paid leave -- to stay home. Russians will see a moratorium on mortgage payments, and enterprises will be given credit holidays. And families entitled to government payments to support multiple children will receive extra monthly payments.But coronavirus has taken on a political dimension for the Russian leader: Putin also announced that a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments scheduled for April 22 has been postponed until further notice.

Read MoreWell evaluate the situation and based only on the recommendations from doctors and specialists we will decide on a new date, Putin said.Its hard to understate how important that vote was to securing the Russian presidents hold on power. Putin has grasped the reins of power in his country for two decades, but his current term ends in 2024, leaving Russia with a potential succession crisis.

Putins system of managed democracy means that power flows from one man: The president has no serious political competition, his friends and allies control the commanding heights of the economy and Putin is the ultimate arbiter of disputes between elites. The current constitution requires Putin to step down after his current term, meaning that the system he presides over could quickly unravel.

Read more:Tracking coronavirus global spreadWhy does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?Why Putin would want Trump to win in 2020The April 22 vote was supposed to remedy that, in typically Putinesque fashion. The countrys rubber-stamp parliament rammed through amendments to the constitution that could pave the way for the president stay in power after his current term ends, potentially until 2036.

Putin signed the amendments, and the constitutional court endorsed the proposed changes, which must now be put to the popular vote.Coronavirus, then, is a new political battlefield for Putin, and the Kremlin leader preceded his speech Wednesday with a public relations offensive.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a hospital in Kommunarka in protective gear.

.On Tuesday, the Russian leader paid a visit to the main Moscow hospital for monitoring suspected coronavirus.....

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