Moscow, 2 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Russian President Vladimir Putin won a referendum on Wednesday that will enable him to stay in office until 2036, with some 78 per cent of the votes in favour after 90 per cent of the ballots had been counted, according to the federal electoral authority.
Putin, 67, has been in power as president or prime minister for two decades and is currently the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.
The referendum had sought to enact a package of amendments that would enable Putin to run for re-election twice more and potentially remain in power until he is 83 years old. His current term ends in four years.
Putin has cultivated a reputation as a guarantor of the state’s stability, in contrast with the economic and political turbulence of the post-Soviet 1990s that preceded his coming to power. This was seen as a deciding factor in approval for the referendum.
“People are voting, rather apathetically, for stability,” Russian political expert Anna Arutunyan, author of the biography “The Putin Mystique,” told dpa.
Putin maintains broad support among Russians, with an approval rating measured at 60 per cent last week by the country’s largest independent pollster, Levada Centre.
Putin, the chosen successor of modern Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, has won all four of his presidential elections – in 2000, 2004, 2012 and 2018 – by wide margins.
He won his most recent election with three-quarters of the votes, about the same percentage as of those in favour of the referendum.
The referendum had been intended to provide a democratic endorsement of the package of amendments, already approved by Russia’s parliament and signed by Putin earlier this year.
It was to be the largest reform of Russia’s constitution since being instated in 1993 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The amendments included generally popular measures such as establishing a minimum wage and pension allocations based on the cost of living. Citizens could give only a yes or no to the whole package.
The amendments also stipulated a ban on gay marriage and declared an attestation of faith in God, a marked departure from the atheist doctrine of the Soviet Union.
Moscow voter Dmitry Ustinkin, a 35-year-old engineer, expressed overall support for the amendments. He said government stability was a factor in his decision, though he disagreed with a stipulation that would enable senators to be appointed for life.
Ustinkin emphasized that the amendments would give Putin only the opportunity to be re-elected. “This is not a presidential election,” he said.
Another Moscow voter, Yekaterina Tekhneriadneva, a 28-year-old bank employee, said she opposed the reform, specifically because “the main goal of the amendments is power retention.”
“These amendments are abusive,” she said. “They restrict our rights and give grounds for strengthening a totalitarian regime. There is a need to change the government, not the constitution.”
The voting was spread out over a week in an effort to maintain precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Putin had declared Wednesday, the final day of the voting, to be a one-off public holiday in a bid to encourage voter turnout.
Russia’s federal electoral authority said after the voting had ended that the nationwide turnout was 65 per cent.