Our Foreign Staff, The Telegraph • June 29, 2020
Russia’s opposition is denouncing this week’s vote on President Vladimir Putin’s constitutional reforms as a joke, pointing out that copies of the amended basic law are already on sale in Moscow bookshops.
From liberal reformers to Communists, Kremlin critics say the vote – which started last week and ends on Wednesday – is a thinly veiled attempt to keep Mr Putin, 67, in power for life.
But other than tepid calls to boycott or vote “No”, the opposition has done little to actively fight the changes.
Russia’s top opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who last summer rallied thousands against suspected voter fraud in Moscow, has also shown little interest in combating the reforms.
Experts say deep divisions and shrewd moves by the Kremlin are keeping opponents from mounting any serious opposition to Mr Putin’s plans.
“A lack of resources, a lack of new faces, a lack of excitement, inspiration and faith – that’s what I think are the main reason for the problems,” said Vitali Shkliarov, a Harvard University fellow and political adviser who has worked with the Russian opposition.
“There have been a million opportunities to prove yourself” since Mr Putin announced the reforms, he said. But after years of repression, Kremlin critics feel dispirited.
“The Russian opposition does not believe in itself.”
Mr Putin proposed amending the constitution in January and later approved a last-minute addition that would reset presidential term limits to zero, potentially allowing him to serve two more six-year terms after his mandate expires in 2024.
They also include political changes like strengthening the role of parliament and a series of populist measures such as a requirement to adjust state pensions for inflation and an effective ban on gay marriage.
Opinion polls show a majority of Russians support the social amendments but there is less enthusiasm for the political reforms.