Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved changes to the country’s electoral law, allowing Russians to vote electronically or by mail in future polls, according to the Kremlin.

Opponents to Saturday’s move say an electronic system will be easier to manipulate and will make it hard for independent observers to notice irregularities.

They also say that the changes are being introduced at a point in time when the coronavirus lockdown means the public is not able to express opposition by protesting against the changes.

The new electronic voting software should be available nationwide and can be used for local and national elections, as well as referendums.

However, it is not clear if the new system will be available for an upcoming constitutional referendum that would clear the way for Putin to serve two more presidential terms beyond 2024, keeping him in power potentially through 2036.

The referendum had been scheduled for mid-April, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

According to Russian media, the new date will likely be June 24.

Backers of the new system say it will help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, according to TASS news agency, since they will no longer be required to go to polling places.

The electronic system has undergone four tests in Moscow so far and not been hacked once, the news agency reported.

Putin unleashed a political storm in January when he suddenly proposed changes to the constitution.

But until recently, he dismissed suggestions he launched the overhaul of the country’s basic law to extend his grip on power.

Putin served the maximum two consecutive terms between 2000 and 2008 before a four-year stint as prime minister.

He returned to the Kremlin in 2012 for a newly expanded six-year mandate and was re-elected to a fourth Kremlin term in 2018.

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