The majority of Russian voters backed constitutional reforms that could keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2036, election officials say.
According to electoral commission, with all the ballots counted, 77.9% voted for the reform package and 21.3% against.
The reforms will reset Vladimir Putin’s term limits to zero in 2024, allowing him to serve two more six-year terms.
Opposition figures denounced the vote, saying Vladimir Putin was aiming to be “president for life”, a claim the Russian president denies.
Vladimir Putin is already the longest-serving leader in modern Russian history since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
There was no independent scrutiny of the seven-day vote, and copies of the new constitution appeared in bookshops during the week.
By spreading out the vote, because of the coronavirus infection risk, the authorities made any monitoring of it more difficult.
Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny described the results as a “big lie” which did not reflect real public opinion in the country.
Golos, an independent Russian election monitoring group, has castigated the vote, alleging there were many violations of democracy.
Its criticisms include: opponents were barred from campaigning in the media; remote electronic voting was organized on an illegal basis; election monitors were appointed by the Civic Chamber – a government body.
Golos describes it as “just a PR exercise from the very start” and says “there was no legal need for it”. The vote “will go down in history as an attack on the sovereignty of the people”.
The reforms include a ban on same-sex marriage – by defining marriage as between a man and a woman – and introducing a reference to Russia’s ancestral “faith in God”.
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According to election officials, turnout was 65%. The highest levels of support – above 90% – were in Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, in Chechnya in the North Caucasus, and Tuva, in Siberia.
Vladimir Putin, aged 67, has not said he will run again for the presidency when his latest term runs out in 2024 – but has said it is vital he has the option to do so.
He has been in power in Russia, either as president or prime minister, for 20 years.
Vladimir Putin and his supporters say the reforms – more than 200 changes – are needed to ensure national stability.
In New York, 816 voted at the Russian consulate and 505 rejected the reforms, while 310 voted for. The other voting district where a majority were against was Nenets, in Russia’s remote Arctic.
Preliminary results were released hours before the last polling stations closed at 18:00 GMT in the western enclave of Kaliningrad, in the vast country spanning 11 time zones.
Before the vote had ended, the internal affairs ministry said there had been no violations that could affect the result, Interfax reported. However, Golos said it had received some 2,100 reports of possible violations.
Several hundred opponents of the constitutional changes staged protests in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The final results show 65% voted yes to the reforms in Moscow, and 77.6% in St Petersburg.
Both Russia’s houses of parliament have already adopted the changes, but President Putin ordered a public vote in a bid to legitimize the reforms. The vote was delayed from April due to the coronavirus outbreak.