Putin could stay in power till 2036 as per the new constitution reforms
NEW DELHI [Maha Media]: Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.
With just over 85 percent of ballots counted after the end of seven days of voting, 77.8 percent of voters had supported the reforms, according to election commission figures cited by Russian state agencies.
There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a manoeuvre to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life.
But top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny slammed the results as a "huge lie" that did not reflect real public opinion.
The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia's parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures -- like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage -- but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024. Turnout as of 2000 GMT was about 65 percent, the election commission said.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes -- including apartments, cars, and cash -- on offer to voters.
Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases.