Vladimir Putin has exhorted fellow Russians to vote for a slew of constitutional amendments that would also let him stay in office until 2036.
Standing before a new statue commemorating the efforts of Soviet soldiers during the second world war on the day before voting ends, Putin appealed to ordinary Russians’ patriotism and their desire for stability without mentioning the stark political implications the vote would have by resetting his term limits and allowing him to seek re-election twice more as president.
“I am sure that each of you, when making such an important decision, thinks first of all about your loved ones, and is based on the values that unite us, which are truth and justice, respect for people of work, for people of older generations, family and care for children, their health, moral and spiritual education,” Putin said in the address, which was broadcast nationally.
The amendments will “enshrine these values and principles among the highest, unconditional constitutional guarantees. We can guarantee stability, safety, wellbeing and a decent life only through development, only together and only ourselves,” he added.
Russia’s constitutional vote, an ad-hoc plebiscite that is not quite a referendum, has seen a massive get-out-the-vote effort. Local governments have enticed voters with raffles and cash prizes to increase the turnout.
A state-owned pollster has already released a controversial exit poll claiming 76% of voters supported the amendments. The Kremlin is keen to have a high turnout in the vote, which culminates on Wednesday, to show that Putin and his platform enjoy broad support.
Critics have attacked the vote, which has continued for a week and allowed online voting, as impossible to monitor. One video circulating on social media showed a family arriving at a polling station this week to discover they had all already voted, according to the official register. When they confronted the head of the polling station, she slams the register shut, telling them to prove it.
Analysts have said polling numbers indicate the Kremlin’s desires rather than the reality at the ballot box. VCIOM, the state-run pollster that released the exit polls, was lightly chastised for interfering in the ongoing vote, but not punished.
“I always said we should have a president-for-life,” the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said on Tuesday, giving voice to the subtext of the nationwide vote. “Who can replace him? There’s no political leader of international standing. We should be proud of this.”