Russia holds on Wednesday the main voting day on the biggest package of constitutional changes since 1993.

The vote started on June 25, to avoid mass gatherings at the polls, associated with the risks of the pandemic.

If the amendments get the public approval, the Russian government and parliament will get wider powers while requirements for candidates for public office will be expanded: they will be prohibited from holding foreign passports, residency or overseas bank accounts, while candidates for the presidential position will also have to live in Russia for at least 25 years.

The amendments will anchor the constitution’s prevalence over international agreements, ban any action threatening Russia’s territorial integrity, and nail down the necessity to defend traditional values, suggesting among other things official forbidding of same-sex marriage.

The “social bloc” of amendments suggests annual raise of pensions, setting minimum wage lower than subsistence minimum, support for parenthood and childhood, and responsible attitude to animals.

The new reading of the constitution stipulates the Russian president can only serve two terms, but it allows for the acting president to run for presidency again once the amendments come into force, which happens if over 50% of the Russians approve the changes.

Asked about his intention to stay in power till 2036, Vladimir Putin said that “he did not exclude anything”, explaining it by the necessity of maintaining political stability.

“I will be absolutely frank now: If this does not happen [the adoption of changes], in two years, I know this from my own experience, instead of normal rhythmic work at many levels of the government, eyes will start searching for possible successors. It is necessary to work and not to search for successors,” he said.

On Tuesday, Putin addressed the nation, calling on the Russians to take part in the vote.

“We are going to vote for the country where we want to live, with cutting-edge education and healthcare, a reliable system of social protection and an effective government accountable to the people,” Putin said, adding that it is the vote for a country, which the citizens would like to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

He also casted his vote at a polling station on Wednesday, following his own message about the importance of each vote.

In 2008, Putin switched places with then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for four years, and then returned to the president’s office.

– Opposition point of view

The Russian opposition protested the amendments, accusing the presidential administration of an attempt to preserve Putin’s stay in power if he chooses it.

Putin’s opponents also considers unjust that people can only vote “for” or “against” the whole package, pointing out on rather large number of amendments, their different character, and saying people should be able to agree with some of them while denying others.

They also criticize absence of a minimum turnout threshold at the vote on constitutional changes.

The observers pay attention that despite prohibition for the campaigning, the Central Election Commission (CEC) issued pick-up materials, calling on people to vote “for” the amendments, rather than “on” them, highlighting “for” in red against the blue background of the rest of leaflets.

The prize lottery also provoked criticism — every person turning out for the vote gets a code to take part in an online prize drawing.

The scale of the voting, when people can cast their votes at the polling stations organized even in parks and equipped cars, also displeased the opposition as there are not enough observers to watch out all the sites.

According to the CEC, over 108 million voters are registered in Russia and 1.9 million abroad.

To date, the voter turnout was 55.22%, according to the CEC data.

So far, no major violations have been detected in the voting, the CEC said.

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