Russia President Vladimir Putin is on track for an overwhelming victory in a referendum on constitutional changes that could see his rule extended to 2036, according to election officials.
Ballots from more than 20% of Russia’s precincts have been counted, revealing 72% of voters have so far approved the Russian president’s proposed amendments to the 1993 constitution.
The overall turnout was believed to be around 65% as polling stations closed in Moscow and Western Russia, while some regions reported a turnout of up to 90%.
Preliminary results in the eastern Chukchi Peninsula, which is nine hours ahead of Moscow, showed 80% had backed the changes, while other regions in the Far East said more than 70% were in agreement.
The vote marks the end of an historic election that saw ballots open for a full week to encourage a higher voter turnout and to avoid crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But Kremlin critics have cast doubt over the motives of opening polling stations for this length of time, saying it could be used as a tool to manipulate the result.
They have also called into question the turnout figures.
Grigory Melkonyants, the co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, top AP: “We look at neighbouring regions, and anomalies are obvious — there are regions where the turnout is artificially [boosted], there are regions where it is more or less real.”
The political saga began back in January after Putin suggested the constitutional changes of broadening parliamentary powers and redistributing power among governmental bodies.
In March, just hours before a vote in the State Duma to approve proposals, the Russian president revealed his other motivations – to reset his number of presidential terms to zero.
This would, therefore, allow him to avoid being required to step down at the end of his current term in 2024, and allow him to run another two times.
Putin has said he is not yet decided on whether to actually run again in 2024, insisting that the constitutional changes would stop people “darting their eyes in search for possible successors”.
But according to former Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, this move could actually highlight Putin’s insecurity about his future.
He said: “Putin lacks confidence in his inner circle and he’s worried about the future. He wants an irrefutable proof of public support.”