Over the course of a week, millions of Russians continued to vote in a referendum to amend the constitution of their country, and many of them voted in polling centers, some of which were erected on tree trunks, garden benches, public parks, and even in car boxes.
Lottery raffles were also held to attract the public to the voting process; Her prizes ranged from winning shopping coupons to winning a car or apartment.
Opposition figures rejected the entire process, describing it as a “farce” that spanned over seven days without proper oversight or scrutiny from an independent authority.
However, the constitutional amendment is vital for the Kremlin, and voting on it will pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036, if he chooses to do so.
Putin’s vision for Russia
In his speech to the nation before the last day to vote in the referendum, Putin said: “We are voting for the countries we want to live in … and we want to hand them over to our children.” He was standing under a huge statue of a Russian soldier to emphasize what he saw “sense.” Patriotism “in the process.
This constitutional amendment, the largest since 1993, is partly an attempt to embody Putin’s vision of Russia: setting out the values and priorities that he has cemented during his two decades in the Kremlin.
“Putin cannot just say to himself ‘I want to do everything possible to stay in power,'” says Tatyana Stanovaya, head of the Center for Political Research “Ar Poltec”.
“People are trying to hide the modest things they do with something more luxurious and positive. So he (Putin) says: I want to create a great Russia and stay in power too.”
What amendments will the Russians vote on?
The new constitution contains clauses that encourage national education, emphasize the prevention of gay marriage and add a clear religious reference to the Lord, and all paragraphs are aimed at reinforcing the conservative culturalism that marked Putin’s rule.
These amendments included “ideological” as well as “social” items; As guarantees of minimum wages, they were vigorously discussed on state television programs and were supported by many celebrities in Russia.
On the contrary, they only rarely mentioned that these amendments also allowed Putin to “whistle” his presidential sessions ending in 2024, allowing him to continue in power for two more presidential terms.
The new Russian constitution
The amendments include dozens of articles in the constitution, as well as adding other articles. It can be classified broadly under three chapters, many of which devote articles of the constitution that are already present in federal law:
1- Conservative Ideology:
- Prohibiting or calling for any act aimed at “confiscating” any Russian land.
- Protecting the “historical truth” from the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) and preventing “underestimating” the exploits and achievements of those who fought in it.
- Protection of the marital institution as a link between a man and a woman
- Preventing officials from holding foreign passports, foreign residency, or accounts in foreign banks.
- A reference to the Russians’ belief in the Lord, as they inherited it from their predecessors.
2– Social / Social Welfare Issues
- Link pension to consumer index (inflation level).
- The minimum wage must not be less than the minimum income that guarantees a livelihood.
- Formulate a “responsible attitude” towards animals.
- The State Council will determine “the direction of the internal and external policies and socio-economic priorities.”
- The presidential term of one person is determined by two presidential terms (instead of two consecutive sessions).
In this case, the previous sessions of those currently in the presidency will not be counted, and this is what has been called the “whistling” of Putin’s past presidential sessions, allowing him to run again for two more.
Yes or no
Participants can vote for one of two options: either to accept all amendments or to reject them all.
Authorities officially banned rallies for either of these two options, but the leaflets distributed to apartment complexes in Russia were calling on people to vote “for amendments” rather than “for them.”
There were small opposition campaigns that glued photos of Putin’s face surrounded by a circle calling on Moscow residents to vote “No”.
Will the outbreak affect the vote?
A short drive from the capital, on the outskirts of Podolsk, people were invited to vote in a tent erected in a parking garage.
Polling station officials wore pity gags, face-protectors and white suits to remind that this poll was taking place in the midst of an outbreak of the Corona Virus pandemic.
The Kremlin was eager to hold the referendum as soon as possible after it was postponed from its scheduled date in April.
A poll conducted by the independent Levada Center in early May indicated a decrease in the level of support for Putin to reach 59 percent (the lowest rate he gets). The continuation of the Covid-19 crisis is unlikely to improve matters.
So Russian officials did their best to get people to contribute to the vote on the amendments.
The name of an employee of the Electoral College in Omsk, Siberia, appeared in the headlines of the national media when she won an apartment in a lottery raffle that accompanied the voting process; Her assertion that it was “just another voter turnout” was greeted with skeptical responses.
There were no awards in Podolsk, but there are many enthusiastic retirees.
“All the adjustments are right for me,” said Galina, putting her ballot in a transparent plastic box decorated with a double-headed eagle.
She referred to the paragraphs of her favorite amendments, which are: “linking pensions to the level of consumption and inflation index, and the right to study, work and housing”, although the last paragraph was not clearly covered in the recent constitutional amendments.
“I like the idea that marriage should be between a man and a woman only,” Alina said, in her thirties.
She added that she had no problem keeping Putin as president “as he is suitable for us now.”
Is there any major opposition?
In the city center and under the Zen Tower in Russian flags, some young voters expressed their disdain for the voting process.
“What use is it? Putin will remain forever in this case,” said one girl, turning her back away.
Maxim said he and many of his friends voted against the amendments.
“We have one president for twenty years, and Putin can stay another 16 years? I think our country needs something new,” he added.
Alexei Navalny, one of the most prominent opposition figures, published a series of posts on social media, mocking the nature of the rapid and temporary preparation of the voting process and an indication of irregularities in it, including pressuring some to cast their votes, or that some people found that their voting cards had been pre-filled for them.
Yuri Dodd, an influential blogger, described the vote as “shameful” in a post he wrote on Instagram and put a preference on it over a million people. He cited Putin’s own words in 2008 saying that it was “absolutely unacceptable” to remain in power for life.
However, the blogger did not decide whether to boycott the vote in the referendum or place a no in his voting paper.
In fact, there is no need for a referendum legally, as the Russian parliament had previously approved amendments to the constitution in March.
However, it has been said that the Kremlin wants a high turnout and a 70 percent approval rating in this referendum, as a popular mandate for it to go back in the future.
One of the results of the poll, which was published, and usually is not allowed in the regular elections, indicates that this goal has been achieved.
In any case, independent of results, the new constitution has been printed and distributed for sale in bookstores.