Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his country’s electorate Friday after they overwhelmingly voted to grant him two additional six-year terms in office, Reuters reported, allowing him to hold office until he is 83 years old.
Putin, who has been in office for a combined 17 years, said that the just-approved constitutional amendments would go into effect Saturday. Seventy-eight percent of Russians voted in favor of the measure to let Putin, who is 67, extend his presidency until 2036, according to Reuters.
“People felt with their hearts,” Putin said, referring to the amendments’ passage. “In general, the results of the vote showed a high level unity in society on key questions that are of national significance,” Reuters reported Putin saying.
Though Moscow was quick to triumph Putin’s victory, critics and independent monitoring groups raised concerns about results that they said were flawed and illegitimate. (RELATED: Vladimir Putin Can Hold Onto Power Until 2036 After Changes To Russia’s Constitution)
“We look at neighboring regions, and anomalies are obvious – there are regions where turnout is artificially boosted, there are regions where it is more or less real,” Grigory Melkonyants, the co-chair of Golos, an independent election monitoring group, told the Associated Press.
The organization reported cases where employers forced their staff to vote, Reuters reported, describing how some voters said they needed to be physically photographed at the polls to provide their employers with documented evidence.
“After this I will call my boss and tell her I voted, of course,” one anonymous voter told the outlet.
“They don’t tell you whether to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’. But they do ask you to report that you voted,” another voter told Reuters.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 2, 2020
Despite the alleged forced voting, some neighboring regions had wildly different turnout rates. In Siberia, the adjacent regions of Tyva and Irtutsk had turnout rates of 73% and 23%, respectively, Melkonyants told the AP, adding that the methods endorsed by the Kremlin to boost turnout eroded the legitimacy of the entire election.
Despite the concerns, Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission insisted that the vote was “free, open, democratic to the maximum and fair,” according to Reuters.
“Its results are legitimate and indisputable,” she said Friday.
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