78% of voters back extending Putin's rule
Voting also took place outside polling stations
/NOVOSTIVL/ A vote that cleared the way for President Vladimir Putin to rule Russia until 2036 was denounced Thursday by his political opponents as a "Pyrrhic victory" that will only further erode his support and legitimacy.
Putin himself thanked voters for their "support and trust," and repeated a message that was often a hallmark of his presidential campaigns.
"We need internal stability and time for the reinforcing of the country, of all of its institutions," the 67-year-old Putin said in a televised statement.
According to election officials, nearly 78% of voters approved the constitutional amendments in seven days of balloting that concluded Wednesday. Turnout across the vast country was put at almost 68%.
The amendment that allows Putin to run for two more six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024 were part of a package of constitutional changes that also outlaw same-sex marriage, mention "a belief in God as a core value" and emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms. Voters could not decide on the individual amendments but only on the entire group.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the results were "a triumphant referendum on trust in President Putin."
Putin's approval rating was at 59% in May, according to the Levada Center, Russia´s top independent pollster. The lowest in two decades, the numbers have been steadily going down in the past five years amid growing frustration over declining living standards.
For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for an entire week, with ballot boxes unattended at night. Independent monitoring was hindered by bureaucratic hurdles and coronavirus-related restrictions. Voting also took place outside polling stations - in some instances on street benches, tree stumps and in the trunks of cars - as well as online in some places, including Moscow.
Abbas Gallyamov, a political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter, said in a Facebook post that the victory cost the government "a serious dent in its legitimacy."