Russian voters look set to approve changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that concluded on Wednesday has been tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.
With the nation’s polls closed and 30 percent of all precincts counted, 74 percent voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials. Just under 25 percent voted no, the Central Election Commission said.
For the first time in Russia, polls were kept 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.
By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of Western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65 percent, according to election officials. In some regions, about 90 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
On Russia’s easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, officials quickly announced full preliminary results showing 80 percent of voters supported the amendments, and in other parts of the Far East, they said over 70 percent of voters backed the changes.
Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.
“We look at neighbouring 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 Press.
Putin, 67, voted at a Moscow polling station.
He made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in a speech on Tuesday. The changes will allow him to run for two more six-year, consecutive stints after his current term expires in 2024.
Putin said he has yet to decide on his future. Critics say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.