Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
President Vladimir Putin at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020.

According to Russia’s Central Election Commission, with almost all of the ballots counted in a vote on a nationwide referendum, 78% voted “yes” on allowing President Vladimir Putin—already in office since 1999—to remain in power until 2036.

TASS, Russia’s official news agency, was beside itself with excitement, quoting the hack who engineered the vote, Senator Andrei Klishas, chairman of the constitutional legislation committee of Russia’s Federal Council upper parliament house and co-chairman of the working group on elaborating amendments to the constitution, who declared on Russia’s main channel, Rossiya-1: “I think we can congratulate ourselves because the figures we see are the real pro-Putin majority which has consolidated in this situation.”

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On Thursday morning, TASS was rife with headlines that were astonishingly reminiscent of the good old headline from Soviet Pravda, such as: “97.92% of voters in Chechnya support constitutional amendments,” and “Voting on constitutional amendments shows consolidation on pro-presidential majority.”

Russia’s constitution required Putin to step down when his six-year term expires in 2024. The amendments to the constitution proposed by the referendum had already been passed by Russia’s parliament, but Putin insisted that he wanted the approval of the voters to give his, for all intents and purposes, coronation legitimacy.

Senator Klishas pointed to the main reason for Russians to abandon any democratic aspirations they may have harbored since the fall of Communism: “The situation is really very difficult. Look what is going on, what this pandemic has led to, what processes it has provoked in many countries, which call themselves ‘old democracies’ with stable democratic traditions,” he said.

Which suggests that the failures of Putin’s regime to stop the pandemic and the consequent collapse of the economy have led the nation to put its complete trust in him for the next 26 years. Putin, who is 67, will be 93 when his new term ends. Of course, every few years he would still have to run for office again, garnering the usual 70% plus – some of it through blatant ballot stuffing, as has been documented many times, but most of it with the real support of the Russian voters who prefer Putin the known devil to whatever alternative devil may be waiting in the wings.

According to Klishas, the voting on the constitutional amendments has again exposed “the failure of the so-called off-parliament opposition,” which is “off-parliament” because Putin is keeping them from running.

“They called on people to remain home and hence we have more ‘for’ votes,” Klishas said. “Because those who might have voted against – and these votes were important too – simply stayed home. So, dear opponents, you have had a chance to see again that you are being manipulated, flagrantly and dishonestly,” he said.

The turnout at the nationwide vote on amending the Russian Constitution hit 57.43% by 12:00 midnight Moscow Time, according to the Central Election Commission’s information center, suggesting about 42% of Russians didn’t bother to show up.

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