Russians are set to approve constitutional reforms on Wednesday denounced by critics as a manoeuvre to allow president Vladimir Putin to stay in the Kremlin for life.
The changes were passed weeks ago by Russia’s parliament and copies of the new constitution are already on sale in bookshops, but Putin says a nationwide vote ending Wednesday is essential to give legitimacy to the plans.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures — like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage — but crucially for Putin will also reset presidential term limits allowing him to potentially remain in power until 2036.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage turnout, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes — including apartments and cars — on offer to voters.
Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases.
There is little doubt the reforms will be approved, with a state-run exit poll of more than 163,000 voters this week showing 76 per cent in favour.
Results are expected to be announced after the last polling stations close at 1800 GMT.
Putin says the changes are needed to ensure stability and cement Russian values in the face of pernicious Western influences.
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