MOSCOW (Reuters) - The only Russian region to vote against constitutional changes granting President Vladimir Putin the right to stay in power until 2036 ruled out a merger with its larger neighbour on Friday, the RBC daily quoted the regional governor as saying.
The acting governor of the Nenets Autonomous District, Yury Bezdudny, linked his region’s rejection of Russia’s new constitution, which was approved by 77.9% of voters nationwide and rejected by just over 21.2%, to local opposition to his region merging with neighbouring Arkhangelsk.
“These sentiments among the residents of the Nenets Autonomous District were very serious. They played a decisive role in voting on amendments to the constitution,” he said.
“There is no plan to merge the regions,” he said.
Bezdudny’s acknowledgment of Nenets residents’ concerns was a rare sign of the power of political protest in a country where opposition figures are stifled and the Kremlin rules with power concentrated in Moscow.
Locals had protested after a memorandum on the merger plan was signed by the two regions’ governors in May, and were concerned that a referendum on the move could still be called even though one planned for September has now been cancelled.
The region, a sparsely populated patch of the Arctic known for reindeer herders and located 1,600 km (1,000 miles) northeast of Moscow, saw over 55% of 37,490 voters reject the constitutional reforms, making it the only one of 85 regions to do so.
Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson