Russians on Thursday opened polling stations for early voting on a constitutional referendum on whether to let President Vladimir Putin run for re-election twice more and potentially remain in power for the next 16 years.
Putin, 67, has already been in power as President or Prime Minister for the past two decades. He is the longest serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.
The early voting at polling stations throughout the country began a day after Moscow hosted a grand parade of 13,000 soldiers, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
The nationally televised parade, during which Putin gave a speech describing the Allied victory over Nazi Germany as a “triumph of good over evil,” drummed up patriotic sentiment ahead of the vote.
Putin has cultivated a reputation as a guarantor of the Russian state’s stability, in contrast with the turbulence of the post-Soviet 1990s before he came to power.
Although his approval rating has declined to a personal record low as Russia struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, Putin still maintains broad support.
According to a nationwide survey in May, by the country’s largest independent pollster, Levada Centre, 59 per cent of Russian adults approve of Putin’s work as president.
The referendum, with its main and final day of voting scheduled for Wednesday, which Putin had declared a national non-working day, was widely expected to pass.
The author of the biography, Anna Arutunyan, “The Putin Mystique” said people were voting, rather than being apathetically, for stability.