Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

A woman holds a placard reading "Boycott to Putin's amendments" as she protests against amendments to the Constitution of Russia on Dvortsovaya Square in downtown Saint Petersburg on July 1, 2020, as Russians vote in the final day of a ballot on constitutional reforms allowing President Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

  • There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year
  • The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week

MOSCOW: Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.
With almost 30 percent of polling stations reporting after the end of six days of voting, 74 percent of voters had supported the reforms, the central election commission said.
There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a manoeuvre to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life.
The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia's parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures -- like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage -- but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024.
Turnout as of 1700 GMT was just under 65 percent, the election commission said.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes -- including apartments and cars -- on offer to voters.
Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases.
In a final appeal to voters on Tuesday, Putin said the changes were needed to ensure Russia's future "stability, security, prosperity".
State television showed Putin voting Wednesday at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was handed a ballot by an electoral worker wearing a surgical mask and gloves.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Putin was not wearing any protective gear.
At a polling station in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, 79-year-old Valentina Kungurtseva told AFP she supported the reforms.
"For us as pensioners, it's very important that they will increase our pension every year," she said, adding that she had no problem with resetting presidential terms.
"As long as we have a good president, life will be good," she said.
In the second city, Saint Petersburg, 20-year-old Sergei Goritsvetov said he opposed the reforms but doubted it would make any difference.
"I voted against and I hope there will be many of us, but I don't know what it will change," he said. "At least I expressed my opinion."
Chief opposition campaigner Alexei Navalny said Putin, 67 and in power as president or prime minister since 2000, wants to make himself "president for life" and called for a boycott.
But the opposition -- divided, weakened by years of political repression and with little access to state-controlled media -- failed to mount a serious "no" campaign.
Golos, an independent election monitor, said it had received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers were putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.
Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova denied any problems on Wednesday, saying: "During the entire voting period no serious violations... were found."
Putin's approval rating has fallen in recent months, in part over early mistakes in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. It stood at 60 percent in June according to pollster Levada, down 20 points from the months after his re-election in 2018.
Analysts say Putin wanted to get the vote over with before Russians -- already suffering from several years of falling incomes -- are hit by the full economic impact of the pandemic.
Putin said in a recent interview that he had not decided whether to run again but suggested that part of the reason for the presidential reset was to allow Russia's political elite to focus on governing instead of "hunting for possible successors".


Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

Updated 26 November 2020

Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

COPENHAGEN: Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen broke down on Thursday when visiting a mink farmer who lost his herd following the government’s order this month to cull all 17 million mink in the country to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Frederiksen has faced opposition calls to resign and a vote of no confidence in parliament after an order by the government in early November, which it later admitted was illegal, to cull the country’s entire mink population.
The order was given after authorities found COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of mink farms, including a new strain of the virus, suspected of being able to compromise the efficacy of vaccines.
“We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life’s work shattered,” Frederiksen told reporters after a meeting with a mink farmer and his son at their farm near Kolding in Western Denmark.
“It has been emotional for them, and... Sorry. It has for me too,” Frederiksen said with a wavering voice, pausing for breath in between words.
The move to cull Denmark’s entire mink population, one of the world’s biggest and highly valued for the quality of its fur, has left the government reeling after it admitted it did not have the legal basis to order the culling of healthy mink.
After a tumultuous couple of weeks since the order was given on Nov. 4, the Minister of Agriculture, Mogens Jensen, stepped down last week after an internal investigation revealed a flawed political process.
Denmark has proposed a ban on all mink breeding in the country until 2022. Tage Pedersen, head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, said this month the industry, which employs around 6,000 people and exports fur pelts worth $800 million annually, is finished.
Denmark’s opposition says the cull of healthy mink should not have been initiated before compensation plans were in place for the owners and workers at some 1,100 mink farms.