Russians have begun heading to the polls to vote on major constitutional amendments — including one that would remove President Vladimir Putin’s sole barrier to his reelection: term limits.
Voting on the referendum began Thursday and polling sites will be open for seven days in an effort to avoid the crowds that would gather on a single day of voting amid coronavirus concerns.
The amendments were proposed by Putin in January, and a vote on the measures was originally scheduled for late April. The Kremlin later postponed the referendum to July 1, citing the pandemic, and agreed to have polling stations open for the week before to prevent overcrowding.
The most notable constitutional change the Russian president is pushing for is an amendment that would allow him to run for two more six-year terms at the conclusion of his current one.
Should the amendment pass, it would allow Putin to hold office until 2036, as his current term expires in 2024.
The Russian leader is currently serving his second consecutive term in office and his fourth overall since coming to power in 1999.
Putin has publicly asserted that he has not yet decided whether he will seek another term but pushed for the measure because it was important that he have the option of running again.
“Otherwise I know that in two years, instead of working normally at all levels of the state, all eyes will be on the search for potential successors,” he said last week.
“We must work and not look for successors,” he added.
Both Houses of Parliament in Moscow have already adopted the measures, which passed with minimal opposition.
Putin insisted that the changes then be voted on by the Russian people, arguing that doing so would give the changes legitimacy.
The efforts are widely expected to pass as protest movements against the measures have failed to gain steam nationally.
Other amendments on the ballot this week address defining marriage as between a man and a woman, redistributing executive powers within the government to strengthen the presidency and grant immunity for former Russian presidents from criminal prosecution.
The Kremlin is so determined to give this vote legitimacy that he is aiming for a voter turnout of at least 55 percent, according to the Washington Post.
The paper reports that in an effort to get voters to the polls, the Kremlin has offered prizes ranging from gift certificates to cars and apartments in exchange for votes. One brochure mailed to Russian households include recipes for a Moscow-themed cake.
They have also pressured state-run businesses to push employees to get to the polls.
What those brochures neglect to mention among the recipes and amendment proposals, is the measure on term limits.