A vote on amendments to Russia’s constitution that could allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036 entered its final day Wednesday amid widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.
For the first time in Russia, polls were open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.
Putin is all but guaranteed to get the result he wants following a massive state propaganda campaign and the opposition’s failure to mount a coordinated challenge. Ironically, the plebiscite aimed at consolidating Putin’s grip could end up eroding his position because of the unconventional methods used to boost participation and the dubious legal basis for the balloting.
By Wednesday morning, the overall turnout already exceeded 55 per cent, according to election officials, and kept climbing through the day to reach almost 90% of eligible voters in some regions. After polls closed in Russia’s Far East, eight time zones ahead of Moscow, officials quickly reported early results showing over 70 per cent of voters backing the changes.
Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned official figures.
“We look at neighboring regions, and anomalies are obvious — there are regions where the turnout is artificially (boosted), there are regions where it is more or less real,” Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, told The Associated
Putin voted at a Moscow polling station, dutifully showing his passport to the election worker. His face was uncovered, unlike most of the other voters who were offered free masks at the entrance The ballot completes a convoluted saga of concealment, deception and surprise that began in January, when Putin first proposed the constitutional changes in a state-of-the-nation address.
He offered to broaden the powers of parliament and redistribute authority among the branches of government, stoking speculation he might continue calling the shots as parliamentary speaker or as chairman of the State Council when his presidential term ends in 2024.
His intentions became clear only hours before a decisive vote in parliament, when legislator Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet-era cosmonaut who was the first woman in space in 1963, suddenly proposed a measure to let him run two more times.