Russian opposition leader urges constitution vote boycott

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said that holding the vote during the coronavirus pandemic would be a "crime against pensioners"

Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Thursday urged Russians to boycott a vote on constitutional changes backed by President Vladimir Putin, slamming plans to hold it during the pandemic.

Putin, who has been in power for 20 years, has backed amendments that would allow him to get around a limit on presidential terms and potentially stay in office until 2036.

The amendments will be put to a national vote on April 22, although this may be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say.

On Thursday, Navalny told supporters in a video post to "make fun of" the vote, arguing it would be "completely falsified" and the constitutional amendments would have no legal force in any case.

The 43-year-old lawyer added that holding the vote during the coronavirus pandemic would be a "crime against pensioners" because older people are most vulnerable to complications.

Navalny accused the 67-year-old Kremlin strongman of seeking to hoodwink Russians with amendments allowing him to dial his term-limit clock back to zero after changing the constitution.

"Everyone knows that one can serve a first term as president only once --- the same way you can only have one first love, one first baby and one first heart attack," Navalny said.

Instead of taking part in the April 22 vote, Russians should participate in regional elections in September and vote the ruling United Russia party out of power, Navalny said.

A number of Kremlin-friendly candidates lost their seats in local elections last September after Navalny instructed his supporters to vote strategically.

Putin had repeatedly denied he had any intention of staying on as president after 2024 and supported an amendment limiting the presidency to two terms.

But then last week he suddenly backed a last-minute amendment by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, under which presidential terms served before constitutional changes will not count towards the limit.