Russians Back Constitutional Reforms in Vote
A large majority of Russians have voted in support of constitutional changes that will enable Russian president Vladimir Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036, according to election officials.
Some 77.9% voted in favour of the reforms, while 21.3% were against. Voter turnout was 65%, according to election officials. International election monitors were not invited by Russia to observe the voting. According to the Russian Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the government on this occasion suspended the law on the protection of voters' rights.
The most controversial change to the constitution that has been proposed is the resetting of Putin's term count. The current constitution forbids presidents from having more than two consecutive terms, which would mean Putin would have to step down in 2024. The changes also curb the powers of his eventual successor, and make Putin immune from prosecution once he does step down.
The reforms also give the Russian constitution precedence over international law and give the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, greater say over the formation of the government. They also seek to enshrine socially conservative values, adding mentions of God and defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Putin has been in power since 2000, making him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. After his first two four-year terms ended in 2008, during which time he said the constitution should be left untouched, the former KGB officer became prime minister, while long-time ally Dmitry Medvedev took over the presidency. Putin ran to be president again in 2012, the term length now extended to six years.
Medvedev abruptly resigned along with the rest of his cabinet in January and was replaced by former tax service head Mikhail Mishustin. Medvedev is now the deputy chairman of Russia's security council, which Putin chairs.