Russia hosts the final day of voting on amendments to the Constitution

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Russia is finalizing a controversial vote on constitutional amendments that will allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in power for two more terms until 2036. Wednesday, July 1, is the main day of the nationwide voting, which began on June 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic SARS-CoV-2 and was extended by a week to avoid crowding of citizens at the polling stations.

In the first five days of voting, the turnout was 45.7 per cent, with 49.6 million people voting. The CEC expects the majority of voters to vote on 1 July. Residents of Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod region had the opportunity to cast their votes during the electronic remote voting from 25 June to 30 June. Meanwhile, the media and social networks reported that several voters managed to vote twice – face to face and online. In particular, this was reported by journalist of “Dozhd” TV channel Pavel Lobkov.

Numerous violations during the referendum

Observers also report numerous violations during the voting. Thus, on June 30, the movement to protect the rights of voters “Golos” announced that the CEC had repeatedly exceeded the powers assigned to it by law. In particular, this concerns early voting before the deadline established by law. In addition, the CEC “actually made all online voting illegal” by creating a special territorial election commission (TEC) for remote electronic voting. “The authority to form TECs (except for foreign ones) belongs to the regional commissions,” said the organization.

Based on the observation in 42 Russian regions, held June 25-30, “Voice” also noted the facts of coercion of citizens to vote, illegal campaigning by election commissions, state and municipal bodies and their officials, multiple voting, throw-in, violation of secrecy of voting and other violations. The organization also pointed to a large difference in the data on voters in different regions. “Often neighboring and very similar regions differ several times in the share of voters”, – pointed out the observers.

The counting of votes will begin after the closure of polling stations.

Vote counting will begin after polling stations across the country close, CEC head Ella Pamfilova said on Wednesday. If more than 50 percent of voters agree to the amendments, they will come into force from the day the results are officially published. The voter turnout threshold has not been set.

On the eve, Putin issued a televised address in which he promised that the amendments would come into force only if they were approved by Russians. They will enshrine in the basic law of the country such characteristic values for Russians as truth, justice, respect for elders, care for family and children, the president said.

Meanwhile, VTsIOM published the exit polls on June 29, without waiting for the results of the vote. According to him, in four days – since June 25 – the amendments were supported by 76 percent of voters. 23.6 per cent of respondents voted against it. Another 0.4 per cent of respondents said they had ruined the ballot.

The amendments are proposed as a package.

More than 96.5 thousand polling stations have been opened throughout the country, and about 110.5 million voters are eligible to vote. In the course of the referendum, they are proposed to resolve the issue of changing 22 articles of the Basic Law of the country, with Russians being able to vote either “For” or “Against” the entire package of amendments. On March 10, the amendments have already been approved by the State Duma, the Federation Council, regional parliaments and the Constitutional Court.

The opposition and its supporters accuse 67-year-old Putin of striving to become president for life. According to the current Constitution, the President cannot remain in the highest state office for more than two consecutive terms. The amendments put to the national vote will nullify Putin’s presidential terms, which will allow him to run again in the elections of 2024 and 2030 and, as a result, remain in power until 2036. The amendment, which will nullify Vladimir Putin’s presidential term, was proposed by State Duma deputy Valentina Tereshkova, who became the world’s first female cosmonaut in 1963.