Update: As expected, Russian voters have approved drastic constitutional changes which could keep Putin in power all the way through 2036.
The AP reports late Wednesday (local time):
A majority of voters approved changes to Russia’s constitution that would allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that ended Wednesday was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.
With most of the nation’s polls closed and 20% of precincts counted, 72% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.
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67-year old Russian President Vladimir Putin will have already been in power for over two decades when his current term runs out in 2024, but now as Russia is in the midst of a crucial vote on a significantly revised constitution, his rule theoretically could extend further all the way up to 2036, or a whopping 12 more years.
Bloomberg reports after voting began last week, despite raging coronavirus fears, that the latest exit poll by state-run Vtsiom puts support for the amendments, which includes the term limit exemption, at 76%.
Under the old or rather current constitution, Putin is barred from running for president again when his term expires in 2024, given consecutive term limits, but the new law would reset this. A single presidential term is six years. Among other constitutional changes authorized by Putin are a permanent constitutional outlawing of same-sex marriage, as well as inclusion in “a belief in God” named as one of Russia’s traditional values.
Putin emphasized this appeal to "traditional values" in a Tuesday television address, saying “We’re voting for the country that we’re working for and that we want to hand down to our children and grandchildren.”
He urged Russians to support what he described as a constitution ensuring—
"stability, security and prosperity."
Bloomberg summarizes further of the exit poll: "The Central Election Commission said Wednesday initial results showed the vote was 74% for the proposals, 25% against, with 1% of ballots counted, RIA Novosti reported."
And despite Russia now having over 654,405 cases of coronavirus and 9,536 deaths — making it the country with the third highest number of infections after the US and Brazil — turnout was reported at over 60% hours before polls closed.
However, Putin's approval ratings have lately slumped along with the economy due to the devastating impact of both the COVID-19 epidemic and collapsed oil prices.