Russian President Vladimir Putin secured his political future on Wednesday after a wide majority of voters supported a controversial national referendum that paved the way for the former KGB agent to stay in power until 2036. A referendum's result gives Putin the opportunity to be Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Peter the Great.
Russians have overwhelmingly voted in favor of changes to the country’s constitution that enable President Vladimir Putin to potentially stay in power up to 2036.
With all the votes counted, the electoral commission said Thursday morning that the final count showed 77.9% of those who voted were in favor of amendments to the constitution of Russia and 21.2% against, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Data showed voter turnout was 65%, the commission said.
The constitutional amendments covered a raft of issues ranging from the minimum wage and pensions, to giving Putin the right to run for two more six-year terms in office. The 67-year old’s current term ends in 2024.
The vote on constitutional amendments was billed as a referendum, but in reality the changes had already been passed by Russia’s parliament and the public vote was seen as a move to legitimize the amendments. Putin has not yet explicitly stated that he will run for office again.
Critics of the Kremlin say the vote was neither transparent nor conducted according to usual electoral standards; ballot boxes were set in conventional polling stations but also on pavements, and in fields and parks.
Some voters — those in Moscow and the Nizhny Novgorod region — were able to vote online, and votes were cast from abroad too. A Russian cosmonaut even voted from space as he is stationed at the International Space Station. Controversially, incentives were also reportedly offered to voters, with reports of prizes being up for grabs.
Russia’s electoral commission has rebuffed accusations of irregularities, however, saying on Twitter that it had received few complaints and had taken measures to prevent double voting, adding that voter lists would be checked and verified.