Politics

Central Asia warily eyes Putin's constitutional changes to extend rule

By Kanat Altynbayev

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Russian President Vladimir Putin steps out on stage to address a national assembly on January 15, 2020 in Moscow. [Kremlin]

ALMATY/BISHKEK -- Russia's constitutional changes amid the coronavirus pandemic are fueling speculation in Central Asia that President Vladimir Putin is using the crisis to extend his rule.

Russia's Constitutional Court on March 16 approved a package of amendments including a "reset" of Putin's previous terms, giving him the possibility to rule into 2036, AFP reported.

Putin's term was set to end in 2024 under the constitution. He began his first presidential term in 2000 and also ruled as prime minister from 1999 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2012.

The approval came just two days after Putin signed the reform bill, which has faced fierce criticism from opposition figures who say it will allow the long-time Russian leader to become "president for life".

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A security screener wearing a face mask stands by the entrance to Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on March 18. President Vladimir Putin on March 17 said the coronavirus situation was "under control" in Russia and that outbreaks of infection had been contained. The country closed its borders to foreigners from March 18, and cultural and sports events have been suspended. [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

Putin repeatedly denied he had any intention of staying on, but then on March 10, he suddenly backed a last-minute amendment by the first woman in space, lawmaker Valentina Tereshkova, restarting the clock on previous presidential terms.

His participation in future elections is possible "if citizens support such a proposal, such an amendment" and "if the Constitutional Court ... hands down an official opinion that such an amendment will not contradict the principles and basic provisions of the Basic Law, the Constitution", said Putin March 10.

A referendum to approve the changes is scheduled for April 22.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Levada Centre, an independent pollster in Moscow, "47% of Russians believe that the presidential amendments to the Constitution are being made in the interests of Vladimir Putin himself to expand his powers and allow him to stay in power even after 2024".

"The public has long seen that all manoeuvres associated with changing the constitutional order are aimed at keeping Putin in power," Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Centre, told the independent business newspaper Vedomosti.

Utilising panic

In the countries of Central Asia, which the Kremlin disparagingly calls its "backyard", there is no doubt that Putin's campaign is aimed at retaining presidential power.

The system of checks and balances supposedly provided by the proposed reform is untenable, said Taalai Nasirdinov, managing director of the Kyrgyz Concept travel agency in Bishkek.

"The Constitutional Court is appointed and dismissed by Putin. It's funny and sad at the same time," Nasirdinov said.

Some in Kyrgyzstan are convinced that the Kremlin is using the coronavirus panic and subsequent economic chill to implement constitutional reform.

Russia so far has reported 438 infections, the majority of them in Moscow, its largest city with more than 12 million inhabitants, AFP reported on Monday (March 23).

Amid the worsening global economic situation, Moscow on March 6 also refused to support an OPEC initiative to reduce oil production, causing a collapse in oil prices and the subsequent devaluation of the ruble.

"Putin is using the public's state of shock to push through amendments to the Basic Law and to reset the term limits on his presidency," said Shavkat Ismailbekov, a resident of Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

He said he is confident that authorities are hiding more cases of the illness in Russia.

"Considering that a referendum is just around the corner, can the declared figures on the number of coronavirus patients be believed?" he mused.

The health authorities are hiding cases by recording them as pneumonia or severe respiratory infections, said Anastasia Vasilyeva, president of an independent Russian trade union called the Doctors' Alliance, earlier in March.

The move to keep Putin in power all started with the suppression of the press and civil society, said Janar Jandosova of Nur-Sultan, director of the Sange Research Centre.

"This time, it's resetting the presidential term limits. The Constitutional Court, like all the Russian authorities, has no conscience. This is total degeneration," said Jandosova.

"Pity the Russian people," she said.

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32 Comment(s)
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Putin smells like a corpse already )))

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What does Putin's rule matter to Central Asia? May God grant Putin 100 years of ruling Russia to spite his enemies, and for the Russian people to rejoice. This article's author is a provocateur.

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The ratings for your Putin have collapsed

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I wish health to E. Rahmon and V. Putin

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Long live Rakhmon and Putin; may ALLAH bestow good health and strength upon them.

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We are for Putin!

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It would be nice if they would at least open up the borders already

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This article was paid for, and it's a provocation. Whoever wrote this travesty should look in the mirror.

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When will Russia reopen its borders?

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We are from Uzbekistan, but we are always for President Vladimir Putin

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Don't torture people. Coronavirus, quarantine; we are protecting our rights and our people by force.

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Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

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Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a good, smart president.

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I'm proud of Putin, even though I'm not from Russia. I live in Kyrgyzstan. I envy the Russians because they have this kind of president. He is a true patriot for his country who wants to preserve Russia, and make it powerful and well-respected. I wish Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin many more years, robust health, and wisdom toward the people who don't appreciate his work. He is a role model for all presidents.

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I agree with you. Putin is a worthy present.

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Dear Jandosova, you should take pity on yourself. That Mr. Nazarbayev of yours has been at the helm of the country for 20 years. And he didn't retire. What a personality cult he created for himself in Kazakhstan! What a shame! He allowed the capital to be named after him while he is still alive. And he's a former Communist. It's not up to you to lecture Russians. Don't meddle in our internal affairs. We support our president. He is intelligent; he is a person with vast knowledge. He loves Russia and serves his country. He never gives awards to or immortalizes himself. We are proud to live in Putin's epoch. Don't envy us, and don't bear us any malice. You should have friendly relations with Russia, and not be at loggerheads with her. Russia has given you independence; you didn't fight for it. So show some politeness. You're lucky to have such a neighbor.

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Long story short, both Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbaev are dictators.

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My friend, if Russia had found the will, it would not have granted Kazakhstan independence. That happened because of the collapse in 1991, when it abandoned us Kazakhs and was like okay, get on as best as you can. And you are moving closer to the same failure thanks to Putin and Nazarbaev, no less than Washington. We will see what happens in 2-3 years. But Kazakhstan will keep developing further in the direction outlined by Nazarbaev. Respectfully, don't get angry with me. I wish you peace and prosperity!

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These concerns are not baseless. However, more important, there is work going on to secretly undermine the Constitution. Russia as a federation is facing a choice about whether to agree to that or participate in the referendum only if the final versions of the amendments are changed in accordance with the existing Constitution. By agreeing with the legal definitions that are being proposed, Russia will face a civil conflict on a scale not seen since 1918. And hoping for a referendum occurring in conformance with the law is futile. United Russia politicians are playing with fire. And I really do feel sorry for the Russian people.

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People like Putin will be thrive as long as there are idiots and scumbags living in this world.

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You don't know where this article was written. Now America looks pathetic, and people like this need a new image. Of course, a transition of power must occur, and if Putin were a wise man he would not have gotten re-elected after Medvedev. And there would be no Medvedev either.

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Look at yourselves before you criticise Putin. What good did you do for your country? And everybody can just blah-blah-blah

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If only it were about Putin - that would be easy.. Don't picture him as the Great Helmsman. The opposition has had it coming. It got carried away with Putin and missed all the problems that were more important. And who knows, maybe Putin is still the best option for Russia so far. But even he can lose something, too, because not all the amendments are in his favor.

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Zhanar and Shavkat, who write articles like this, we will soon pity you. For some reason Kazakhstan has ended up as part of China on the map. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry protested. And the whole Internet knows what's going on in Xinjiang. So, Zhanar and Shavkat, you could end up fleeing to Russia.

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God loves Russia; he gave her Putin!!! Cherish and help your President! Putin is doing everything right, and for the good of his people. And our Asian "bais" [historically, rich landlords in Asia] should learn from him about how to care for their own people and country - they only know how to fleece their own people.

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These Bais can't hold a candle to the Mega-thief, galley slave Vladim Vladimych Putin

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Putin is doing everything right! And as for the so-called countries of Central Asia, it's time to think... if they have anything they can use to think with, then it cannot be business as usual anymore when they are brazenly fleecing their people. The day is looming when Russia is going to make you all an offer you can't refuse. The decisions made by your ancestors are going to come back around to haunt you. IMHO

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You have to reckon with Turkestan! God forbid there is a single "spark" - that would cause a fire.

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Well, Central Asia will have to follow the Baltic States and Ukraine. It's going to happen sooner or later. And fascists like you are fueling this process

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It's more likely that your Russia will collapse yet again

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The problem is that by "optimizing" healthcare the Russian authorities have undermined their abilities to test asymptomatic carriers when a person having no signs of the illness becomes a source of infection.

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What's happening in the Kremlin now is a coup and junta.

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