July 1 is a special day for many Russians as it is a possibility of resetting the counter to zero of Putin’s rule. A nation-wide referendum will determine fate of constitutional amendments that will allow Putin who’s been in power for the last 20 years to run for two more terms in office, potentially extending his rule until 2036, as divainternational.ch reports.
However, there is more at stake than just a resetting of Putin’s term limits. Russian authorities want to get the whole package of constitutional reforms voted for. They use the pretext of “addressing” socio-demographic issues. The regime retains full control over the leading TV channels and other powerful media outlets, supporting among the population exaggerated patriotic sentiments and belief that all problems in Russia come from western powers, especially those of the United States, which allegedly seek to hinder Russia’s efforts to protect “legitimate national interests.”
Moreover, the amendments to the Russian Constitution, especially regarding granting immunity to the president, who has ceased to exercise his powers, suggest that Putin has doubts regarding public support if he self-nominates for another term, fearing possible persecution after he is off his post. Russia experts believe that Putin’s system of “vertical power” makes him the final arbiter among elites and the new amendments to the Constitution will provide almost dictatorial powers to the president.
As divainternational.ch points out , the new Constitution is little or no different of that adopted in 1936 in the Stalin years, involving pseudo-democracy and respect for citizen’s rights that remains on paper. But in fact, the new life will offer prospects of repression, and infringement of political freedoms. However, Russia’s opposition is weak-willed to counter the new challenges. The lack of any concerted public campaign against the constitutional changes is worrying, according to experts, as it highlights a long-standing division among the Russia’s opposition and suggests that many are not ready to encourage street protests in the face of a potential clampdown by police.
By new amendments, the current Russian leader has intention to put a stop to any discussions about the “post-Putin era” that are potentially damaging to his authority. Putin’s attempts to stay in power will dig Russia and its citizens into decades of stagnation and decline. After the constitutional reform, Putin in the new status will deal exclusively with foreign policy issues, rather than also being involved in addressing economic issues, thus absolving himself of responsibility for the low living standards of the population.
Putin’s polls have slipped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but his ratings are still high. Taking into account some of the constitutional amendments – the new amendments suggest that a marriage should be seen as a union solely between a man and a woman – one may arrive at a conclusion that they appeal to a segment of conservative voters. At the same time, Putin has been trying to distance himself in the media space from any social challenges, shifting the responsibility onto the government, while continuing to gain advantage of international agenda to divert the attention of vast Russian audiences from internal problems.
Together with a “Putin Zeroing” project, the Kremlin is implementing a party project aiming to ensure safety of the United Russia party (in the event of a project failure), legitimize the self-proclaimed pseudo-republics on the territory of Ukraine promising their leaders’ a mandate in future Russian parliament.
Putin administration is building political parties in order to divide the opposition vote in anticipation of the 2021 State Duma elections. In the beginning of 2020, a new organization, the Direct Democracy Party, appeared on the political arena of Russia. It would be interesting to mention that its founder, Vyacheslav Makarov, is a video game developer and the product director for World of Tanks, an online role-playing game in the arcade tank simulator genre. Moreover, the party’s lists consist of such people as Maria Butina, a Russian spy who recently returned from the U.S. in a swap effort, and former defense minister of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, ex-FSB colonel Igor Strelkov (Girkin). Zakhar Prilepin, a well-known Russian novelist, also intends to enter parliament with his own political party on the foundations of the “For Truth” movement. They have already established representative offices in partially recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Kremlin officials are counting on the prospect that several new parties like For Truth and Direct Democracy that are loyal to the current regime will compete in the 2021 Duma elections thus creating an illusion of open competition. But many critics agree these odd new parties widely believed to be “curated” by the Kremlin’s spin doctors merely confirm the idea of Putin’s preparation for the next election is already in full swing.