Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in a televised address full of war symbolism has urged Russians to vote for constitutional amendments without mentioning that one of them would allow him to stay in power at least until 2036.
Nationwide voting for constitutional changes – which expand the powers of the president and the parliament, make vague pledges about social justice as well as cancel term limitations for the sitting president – is due to wrap up on Wednesday.
The polls have been open for a whole week in an unprecedented bid to ensure safety amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Putin on Tuesday recorded his new address to the nation, standing by a new, towering monument of a soldier in the town of Rzhev, the site of some of the Soviet Union’s bloodiest battles in the Second World War.
After hosting a Victory Day parade on Moscow’s Red Square just one day before the voting began last week, the Russian leader appeared to have co-opted memories of the war once more as he praised Soviet soldiers on Tuesday for giving future generations a chance to “live under peaceful skies” before urging Russians to go to polling stations and vote.
“We are voting for the country we want to live in, the country with modern education, health care, social protection of citizens and an efficient government accountable to people,” the 67-year old president said.
“We can only ensure stability, security and prosperity through development, and only together and by ourselves.”
Mr Putin underscored that the proposed constitutional changes enshrine values that he holds dear such as truth, justice and family but he stopped short of saying that the key amendment allows him to be president until he is 83.
Some Russian politicians, however, are talking about it openly.
“I’ve always said we should elect Putin as president for life. Who is going to replace him today?” Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Russian region of Chechnya, said in televised remarks on Tuesday.
Voting for the amendments, which does not fall under the current election law, is held under new, lax rules, leaving room for vote-rigging, according to election observers.
The BBC’s Russian Service on Tuesday claimed one of its correspondents was accidentally added to a work WhatsApp chat of the Moscow Metro’s trade union.
The chat’s leader told workers to report back after they voted on the constitutional amendments. Some of the people who voted online posted screenshots of their vote while others gave details of the polling stations where they voted.
VTSiOM, a state-owned pollster, on Monday published an exit poll, showing that 76 per cent of those surveyed said they voted in favour of the amendments.
Election monitors have condemned the poll as an attempt to sway public opinion while Russian Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova lamented the publication but insisted that she had no legal tools to ban it.
An opinion poll conducted earlier this month by the Levada Centre, Russia’s only independent pollster, showed that 44 percent would support the amendments, and 32 per cent would vote against them.