– Also read: The big parade before the referendum
According to all the leading analysts, the changes to the Russian Constitution – which in the 20 years since he has been in power had never changed significantly – are part of a plan to consolidate his power and his idea of Russia. The first important signs were seen at the beginning of 2020, when Putin “resigned” the entire Russian government and made clear his intention to change a bit of things to build the possibility of remaining in power even after 2024, the year in which he will end his current mandate, which cannot be followed by another consecutive one. Someone had therefore thought that, as he had done in the past, Putin wanted to strengthen the role of the prime minister (a position he had already held and which he could return to fill) and weaken that of president, leaving it to some of his allies.
In March – with the proposal for a new and unexpected amendment to the constitutional reform under discussion – things became clearer. In addition to the more than 200 other amendments, one was added which, if approved, would have allowed to reset the count of the times in which each politician was president, so as to leave Putin the possibility of being directly president for two other mandates.
– Also read: Twenty years of Putin
Since June 25 and until today, Russian citizens of 11 different time zones have been voting for the reform of the constitution which, among other things, would allow Putin – if he succeeded in being re-elected – to govern until 2036, i.e. until he was over 80 years old.
However, the constitutional reform provides for several other changes, the largest since Russia stopped joining the Soviet Union. Among other things, the reform contains amendments to clarify and strengthen the ban on same-sex marriages, to ensure that the Russians are recognized as the ethnic group that founded the nation, to formally recognize Russia as the successor state of the Soviet Union and to add a series of references to faith in God (Russia is an Orthodox Christian majority country). There are also amendments that, if definitively approved, could allow Russia to strengthen control over Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed to Russian territory in 2014, and on the Kuril Islands, disputed with Japan since the Second World War.
As he summarized BBC, these are largely topics “in line with Putin’s growing cultural conservatism” but also topics with which Putin hoped to be able to make as many people as possible in the referendum, not making him perceive it only as a move he needed to continue remain in power (or even just to govern until 2024 without necessarily being perceived as an outgoing president and at the end of his term). Always BBC He wrote: “The most” ideological “amendments are, together with the” social “amendments which concern, for example, the guaranteed minimum wage, the most discussed in state television”. On the contrary, those most directly related to Putin and his intention to “bring back the hands” of his presidential mandates are “barely mentioned”.
As for the results of the referendum, there are very few doubts. Being an optional vote in some ways – it can be said, in short, that the Russian government could have found a way to avoid it, but that Putin wanted it so as not to perceive the changes to the Constitution as something dropped from above – there was even more freedom than usual in setting up seats and organizing the vote. There are many seats, in some cases even simple tables in front of the park benches, and very few controls. You can also vote online and there are those who showed how easy it was to vote both online and in some polling station, thus voting twice.
To entice citizens to vote, the possibility of winning prizes of various types – shopping vouchers, appliances, cars, houses – has also been added in what is therefore a sort of lottery. Theoretically, it would also be forbidden to make propaganda for the referendum, but the Russian government has made propaganda about the fact that there was a referendum and that we had to go to vote for that referendum, often suggesting that we had to vote for yes, accepting with a single vote the whole package of proposed amendments.
According to the few polls available, the “yes” to constitutional changes should therefore win easily and with considerable detachment on the “no”. More than anything, we will have to see how many people have come to the polling station: a minimum number is not necessary to make the referendum valid but, as always in these cases, the Russian government said it expected a 70 percent turnout. All this in a country that, according to the data, has been among the most affected in the world by the coronavirus and where every day the cases of contagion identified continue to be thousands.
In the meantime, however, the new Constitution – the one with all the amendments that citizens are still voting on – has already been printed and is on sale in the country’s bookstores.