Russians started early voting on Thursday, in a seven-day referendum on constitutional amendments that could allow President Vladimir Putin to run for re-election twice more and potentially remain in power till 2036.
Election officials explained that polls were being opened on Thursday across the country before the official July 1 vote to avoid overcrowding to curtail spread coronavirus.
Masks and disinfectants areavailable to 110 million voters from the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the Pacific Ocean.
The Kremlin had temporarily postponed the vote scheduled for April 22 as COVID-19 infections increased and officials imposed restrictions to slow the pandemic.
Putin, who has already been in power as president or prime minister for the past 20 years, introduced the reforms to the 1993 constitution in January this year, and they were quickly adopted by both houses of parliament and regional legislators.
In theory, the reforms would allow Putin to run two more times and remain in the Kremlin until 2036.
As it is now, 67-year-old Putin’s current term in the Kremlin would expire in 2024.
Putin stay at the head of government has shown stability for the Russian people in contrast with the turmoil of the post-Soviet 1990s before he came to power.
Although his approval rating has declined in recent times as because of the coronavirus pandemic, Putin still has a large support base.
Golos, an independent non-governmental organization that follows elections in Russia, has come up with more than 700 reports on alleged violations and forced voting in the run-up to the vote, with screenshots from bosses, school principals and local bureaucrats saying they will fire or deal with those who do not register to vote.
About 59 percent of Russian adults approve of Putin’s work as president, according to a nationwide survey last month by the country’s largest independent pollster, Levada
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has claimed that the vote is a populist ploy designed to give Putin the right to be “president for life”.
“It is a violation of the Constitution, a coup,” he said this month on social media.
The opposition’s campaign against the reforms has not gained momentum.
Rallies scheduled in the Russian capital, Moscow, in April were barred under virus restrictions against public gatherings.
The “No” website, which collected signatures of Russians opposed to the reforms, was blocked by a Moscow court, forcing it to relaunch under another domain name.
The revised constitution already in Moscow bookstores so it seems a forgone conclusion.
Experts at state-run pollster VTsIOM this week projected that as many as 71 percent of voters would cast their ballots in favour.
The independent polling group Levada published a survey last month that showed his ratings at an all-time low of 59 percent.
Along with resetting Putin’s term limits, the reforms states it will preserve conservative values that the Kremlin hopes will appeal to voters.
They also include a mention of Russians’ “faith in God” despite its long history as a secular country, and a stipulation against gay marriage, which is not allowed under current legislation.