Russians Thursday have started to vote on the constitutional changes that will allow the incumbent president to serve two more terms in office.

The vote will last from June 25 to July 1 to avoid mass gatherings at the polls, associated with risks of the coronavirus spreading, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) explained in a statement.

The polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time (0500-1700GMT).

The precinct election commissions issued recommendations for the residents of each house in their districts, indicating the best time for casting ballot to better organize the voter turnout.

However the recommendations are not strict as the voters can come at any convenient time.

The CEC also suggested a number of modes allowing people to vote at distance, including house calls of the CEC officers and casting votes on the website providing state services.

Asked about the safety of vote, the CEC head Ella Pamfilova said “it is safer than go to a shop.”

If the amendments get the public approval, President Vladimir Putin will be able to run for the president again in 2024 and stay in power till 2036.

The changes will also expand the authority of government and parliament, giving them wider power in appointing ministers, allocating funds etc.

According to the CEC, over 108 million voters are registered in Russia and 1.9 million abroad.

Commenting on the amendments, Putin said the coronavirus pandemic underscored the necessity to adapt the constitution, which was drafted in the times of political crisis when Moscow witnessed hostilities and tanks were shooting the parliament, to a new reality.

He did not exclude that he will stand for election, explaining it by the necessity of maintaining political stability.

“I will be absolutely frank now: If this does not happen [the adoption of changes], in two years, I know this from my own experience, instead of normal rhythmic work at many levels of the government, eyes will start searching for possible successors.

It is necessary to work and not to search for successors,” he said.

In 2008, Putin switched places with then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for four years and then returned to the president’s office.

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