Russian President Vladimir Putin rescheduled a referendum for next month that would open a path for him to remain in power until 2036, as his government says the coronavirus crisis is receding.
The referendum, which was originally planned for April 22 before the epidemic forced a postponement, will be held July 1, Putin told officials on a videoconference from his residence outside Moscow Monday. Voting should be spread out over a week in order to ensure its safety, Russian election chief Ella Pamfilova said at the meeting.
“On the whole, we have managed to resolve the biggest problem, preventing the explosive nature of the situation from developing into a worst-case scenario,” Putin said at the start of the session. “This is allowing us to return to normal life.”
Still, Putin kept up the suspense during the televised meeting, calling a minister during the session to check on potential scheduling issues before giving the final sign-off.
“I’m very much counting on the citizens of Russia participating as actively as possible in the voting on determining the parameters of the basic law,” he said.
With Russia slowly emerging from two months of a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Kremlin is rushing to hold the vote. The restrictions, combined with the plunge in prices for oil, Russia’s main export, led to a decline in economic activity by a third, sending approval ratings for the president lower, according to the Levada Center and FOM polling services. According to a Levada poll, Putin’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest level in two decades.
Russia has the world’s third-highest number of COVID-19 infection cases. The total number of cases reached 414,878 on Monday, while the reported death toll remains relatively low at 4,855.
The referendum initially seemed to be a formality after parliament and the Constitutional Court took less than a week to rubber-stamp the changes endorsed by Putin in March that allow him to seek two more six-year terms when his current presidency ends in 2024.
A poll released May 30 by the state-run Vtsiom pollster found 61% of those surveyed who said they plan to vote would back the initiative.
July 1 may be declared a holiday in honor of the voting, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported. The government will take the necessary steps to prevent a new outbreak of the coronavirus during voting, according to Pamfilova.
“It will be safer than participating in other events, and definitely safer than going to the store,” Pamfilova said, adding that the election commission will conduct temperature scans and provide disposable pens.
With assistance from Andrey Biryukov.
More must-read international coverage from Fortune:
- 4 more years of Trump may accelerate China’s rise, says former UN Security Council president
- “Shameless”: Beijing accuses U.S. of interference in Hong Kong autonomy dispute
- How a trip to an English castle united Britain against the country’s lockdown architect
- To recover from COVID-19, Europe wants more 5G
- WATCH: The global crisis in recycling
- Subscribe to Fortune’s Eastworld newsletter for expert insight on what’s dominating business in Asia.