Russians opened the door to Vladimir Putin staying in power until 2036 by voting overwhelmingly for constitutional changes that will allow him to run again for president twice, but critics said the outcome was falsified on an industrial scale, Reuters reported.
Official results published on Thursday, after 100% of ballots had been counted, showed that the former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister had easily won the right to run for two more six-year terms after the current one ends in 2024.
That means Putin, 67, could rule until the age of 83.
The Central Election Commission said 77.9% of votes counted across the world’s largest country had supported changing the constitution. Just over 21.2% had voted against, it said.
Ella Pamfilova, head of the commission, said the vote had been transparent and that officials had done everything to ensure its integrity.
Opposition politician Alexei Navalny had a different view and called the vote an illegitimate and illegal show designed to legalize Putin’s presidency for life.
“We’ll never recognize this result,” Navalny told supporters in a video.
Navalny said the opposition would not protest for now because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but would do so in big numbers in the autumn if its candidates were blocked from taking part in regional elections or their results were falsified.
“What Putin fears most is the street,” said Navalny. “He… will not leave until we start to take to the streets in the hundreds of thousands and in the millions.”
Russians had been encouraged to back Putin’s power move, described by critics as a constitutional coup, with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments in the same reform bundle, such as pensions protection and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.