Putin delays vote on controversial amendments

March 25 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that a vote on controversial constitutional amendments that could extend his tenure as president for years will be delayed because of the coronavirus.

One amendment would reset the terms a president could serve, possibly allowing Putin to serve until 2036. The amendment had already been approved by the Russian lawmakers and the Constitutional Court.

The vote was originally scheduled for April 22. Putin did not say when a new vote would take place.

“I believe that the vote needs to be postponed to a later date,” Putin said. “We will see how the situation unfolds in the regions and in the country on the whole and will make a decision on a new date based on expert opinion.

“You know how serious I take it and I will definitely ask you to come and voice your opinion on the matter, which is key and crucial for our society,” Putin said.

Putin said next week will be designated as a national paid holiday and residents should stay home to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Russian officials confirmed 163 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, bringing its total to 658. Wednesday’s total was the country’s largest one-day increase so far.

Russia previously announced it has closed all sporting and cultural events, and businesses that attract large gatherings like nightclubs and cinemas. Moscow residents aged 65 and older have been ordered to self-isolate at home starting Thursday.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin Tuesday he believed Russia faced a “serious situation” and the country’s numbers are likely not a reflection of actually infection figures. Putin had initially dismissed the coronavirus threat there.