It was a move full of patriotic symbolism: Tereshkova, a former cosmonaut and the first woman to fly in space, is a living connection in the times of the Soviet conquest.
But more than just restoring term limits is at stake. The vote also became a referendum on the system that was built around Putin during his two decades in power. As many observers of Russia note, Putin̵
Russia in 2020 is not a dictatorship in the classical sense: Putin depends on regular elections as a kind of plebiscite to give legitimacy to his domination. To tell the truth, the Russian political system lacks checks and balances: the parliament is full of loyalists and what the Russians call a “pocket” (ie powerless) opposition; the president has a large latitude to assume and fire regional leadership; and the courts refer to executive power.
But Putin must follow the letter of the law: after all, he left office to Dmitry Medvedev, remaining in power behind the scenes during a four-year interval as the new president changed the constitution.
What followed today is instructive: Medvedev has introduced a series of constitutional reforms that have increased presidential terms to six for four years and allowed Putin to run again. But the widespread accusations of electoral fraud following the 2011 parliamentary elections led to a wave of protests for democracy that deeply concerned the Kremlin.
Some Russians have chosen social media to show their preferences, posting NYET (no) in their profiles. Residents of Moscow and other major cities have pasted anti-Putin stickers alongside posters of amendments. Others have taken note of a curious fact: copies of the constitution have recently been put up for sale in bookstores, with the amendments already included, something widely commented on social media. This suggested to many Russians that the correction was underway.
State pollster VTsIOM released the first exit polling results on Monday, which suggest that Putin will get approval for the amendments: according to these results, about 76% of respondents in 800 polling stations in Russia said they supported constitutional changes.
There is little to suggest that the outcome will not satisfy the Kremlin, but the state apparatus has worked extraordinarily to increase turnout and add legitimacy to controversial changes. A massive voting campaign launched by the authorities at all levels has a series of appeals: television ads that promise great social benefits, billboards showing happy families who voted “Yes” and brochures with recipes and crossword plastered on the entrances of the residential buildings. But the official publicity campaign for the referendum does not show that the constitution could consolidate Putin’s reign until he is 84 years old and give him immunity from prosecution when he retires.
The same goes for Putin’s messages. In a short video released Tuesday, Putin appears before a new monument to Soviet soldiers and urges the Russians to vote for “stability, security and prosperity”, saying that a new constitution means a future with good health care, education and a ” effective government “to the public.” Does not mention the restoration of mandate limits.
Independent voter controllers also raised questions about widespread reports of voting violations. Even before the vote started last week, independent retail outlets and NGOs have released dozens of screenshots and audio messages suggesting employers’ vote in large corporations and state-funded organizations.
“In the last few days we have also seen a large number of votes, so it seems that at some point it has been clear [the organizers] that the administrative resources to mobilize the controlled electorate are running out, they could even vote in a slightly different way than they wanted and have resorted to good old ways of maneuvering “, Stanislav Andreychuk, co-charman of the non-governmental group Golos , he told CNN.
According to Andreychuk, this plebiscite is much less regulated than in the previous elections monitored by its organization: the voting booths set up on the park benches violate the secrecy of the vote, the usual restrictions on the release of exit polls are not applied and the campaign is not regulated – aided by lotteries that promise apartments to attract voters to stations – confusing the right of voters to freely exercise their will.
Asked about the anecdotal evidence of voting irregularities, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov questioned the reports shared in the local media on the polling stations that were set up in the trunk of cars or on park benches.
“The interest in the vote is great, but it’s too early to draw conclusions, wait, it’s just started,” he said in response to questions on a conference call with reporters.
“Self This [constitutional change] it doesn’t happen in two years – I know from personal experience – instead of normal and constant work at various levels of power, everyone will start looking for possible successors, “he said.” We must go on working, not looking for successors. “
However, the referendum has the potential to cast a cloud over Putin’s potential reelection – and theoretically, about his next two terms in office.