Russians Vote to Allow Putin to Rule Until 2036
According to election officials, nearly 78% of Russian voters have approved a set of constitutional amendments that clear the way for President Vladimir Putin to rule Russia until 2036. Turnout across the country was said to be almost 68% over seven days of voting that concluded July 1.
The amendment that allows Putin to run for two more six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024 was part of a package of constitutional changes that also outlaw same-sex marriage, mention "a belief in God as a core value" and emphasize Russian law over international norms. Voters could not vote on the individual amendments but only on the entire set.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the results were "a triumphant referendum on trust in President Putin."
But Putin's critics argued that the results were rigged and didn't reflect decreasing enthusiasm for the once-popular president.
Putin's approval rating was at 59% in May, according to the Levada Center, Russia's top independent pollster. The lowest in two decades, the numbers have been steadily going down in the past five years amid growing frustration over declining living standards.
Critics pointed to a number of irregularities, as well as a lack of transparency and independent monitoring of voting that they said undermined the validity of the results.
For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for an entire week, with ballot boxes unattended at night. Voting also took place outside polling stations — in some instances on street benches, tree stumps and in the trunks of cars — as well as online in some places, including Moscow.
Golos, Russia's top independent election monitoring group, called the results "falsified."
Dmitry Gudkov, a former lawmaker and now an opposition leader, pointed to independent exit polls that reported over 54% of more than 5,000 respondents in Moscow, and 63% of nearly 3,000 respondents in St. Petersburg, voted against the amendments.
A nationwide poll by Levada showed that 68% of those who had cast their ballot by June 27 voted "yes," and 54% of those who hadn't would approve the amendments.