Voters across Russia have taken to the polls as part of a nationwide, week-long vote on constitutional changes that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
The amendments have already been approved by both houses of the Russian parliament, the country’s constitutional court and were signed into law by Putin, and the vote is seen as an effort to put a veneer of democracy on the controversial changes.
Putin says he’s sure the “absolute majority” of Russians approve of them.
In April and May, his traditionally high approval ratings reached an all-time low of 59%, according to the Levada Center.
In the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region, a constitutional quiz was organised — conveniently near polling stations — with top prizes of a car or an apartment.
Participants needed to answer several questions about the constitution of Russia and keep the stub. The first results of the quiz were announced on June 26 on local TV.
Local human rights activist Olga Suvorova called the quiz “a simple bribery of the voters,” adding that a law recently adopted allowed for such games.
Separatist officials in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics organized bus services to polling stations in the neighboring Rostov region in Russia, in what is seen by many as another effort to boost turnout at the controversial plebiscite.
On Friday morning, dozens of people gathered at a bus station in Donetsk, a rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine, waiting for their turn to get on a bus to Russia.
Some of the voters told The Associated Press that the reform would boost the powers of the Russian authorities and bring peace to the region, while others expressed hope that the reform would allow separatist republics to become part of Russia.
Over 220,000 Ukrainians living in areas held by Russia-backed rebels received Russian passports last year, after Putin signed a decree expediting citizenship applications from residents of the self-proclaimed republics.
Russia’s borders have been closed since late March because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yet, there are procedures in place to allow Russian citizens to enter the country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday, commenting on the fact that voters from eastern Ukraine are able to travel to Russia.
According to separatist officials, there are 12 polling stations in the Rostov region where residents of eastern Ukraine can vote.
The regional election commission confirmed to the AP that polling stations for Russian citizens not registered as residents were operating all across the region.