Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be heading for a significant victory in the referendum on changing the constitution.
According to Russian media, both an exit poll and the first interim results predict that about three-quarters of the voters support the proposals.
A victory could enable Putin (67) to remain in power until 2036. He may then participate twice in the presidential election. His current term of office will expire in 2024, and he can hold two more six-year terms after that.
The former KGB spy has been the longest-serving leader since dictator Josef Stalin. The referendum comes at a sensitive time.
The corona crisis has hard hit Russia, and Putin’s popularity has dropped to about 60 percent, according to an independent sounding agency.
The authorities have pulled out all the stops to get the turnout as high as possible. For example, voters are promised prizes and, according to observers, officials have been pressured to vote. Opponents who wanted to campaign were also opposed.
The referendum is not just about Putin, but about a much larger package of changes to the constitution. For example, it is established that marriage is a union of husband and wife. That amounts to a ban on same-sex marriage.
Putin was not obliged to call a referendum, but it does give him more legitimacy if he stays longer anyway. He previously circumvented the limitation on the maximum number of terms of office of the President by becoming a Prime Minister.