People in Moscow received text messages this week telling them they had been registered to win “millions of prizes”.
The capture? They have to vote on constitutional amendments that include allowing Vladimir Putin to remain in the Kremlin potentially until 2036.
Organizers of Russia’s pseudo referendum to amend the constitution, originally scheduled for April 22 but delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, appear to be making the rules up as they go.
In a single vote, Russians must choose whether to support a package of amendments that include pension and minimum wage increases, a modest government shakeup, a constitutional mention of “faith in God,” a ban on gay marriage, exhortations to preserve the Russian history. , and the prohibition of high officials with dual citizenship.
The announcements for the vote hardly mention that it will also reset the deadlines for Putin, who has ruled since 2000.
It is not an official referendum and the rules are custom designed. Unlike normal elections, voting is allowed online and takes place for one week, between June 25 and July 1. As Russia continues to grapple with the coronavirus, some voting officials have decided that it is safer to collect ballots outdoors, plant ballot boxes in tree stumps, in car boots, on public buses, and in plastic patio furniture.
The referendum is both momentous and absurd. Russians may endorse (or oppose) a plan to let Putin run for two more terms, which could extend his rule beyond Stalin and then win a washing machine or a hair dryer.
“It looks like a game show, but I tell everyone I know to take this seriously, it’s enough to drive you crazy,” said Oleg Kharlamov, a Moscow lab technician who said he intended to vote on against the amendments. The vote would help determine “who is in charge of the next generation, and if we complain, they will say … ‘you voted in favor,'” he said.
The raffles and prize draws are just part of a broad, government-approved voting effort. Companies have authorized their own awards that could allow them to track employee voting, while government workers, such as teachers and doctors, some of whom are busy battling the coronavirus outbreak, are urged to vote, in attempts systematic to increase participation.
Meanwhile, influencers from Instagram and TikTok claim that shady brokers have offered them millions of rubles to urge their young followers to vote.
Analysts say the Kremlin concluded that the rescheduled referendum had to happen now, after Russia declared victory over the coronavirus (despite more than 7,000 new cases per day still being reported) and before the effects of an economy. battered or a possible second wave more sour public opinion.
“The situation seems volatile, people are in a difficult situation. Many have lost their jobs and more could lose them in the future, ”said Tatiana Stanovaya, director of the analysis firm R.Politik. “They [the government] I want to quickly hold this vote and close the matter. The longer they waited, the harder it would be to mobilize the public and get the right result. “
There are broad concerns that the results will be manipulated, particularly with limited scope for monitoring polling places and online voting. Pavel Lobkov, a reporter for TV Rain, managed to vote in person at a polling station and then online on Thursday when the polls opened, effectively casting two votes. Election officials said their extra vote would be discounted.
There is almost no chance that the vote will fail. Weeks before the vote, publishers began supplying Moscow bookstores with copies of the amended constitution.
The Kremlin is said to be aiming for 70% support for the amendments, and would put Putin to shame at the move with a slim majority. But the government must also avoid any image of a fraudulent vote such as the one that sparked protests after the 2011 parliamentary elections.
Rather than an emphatic public support for Putin, voting is more like a task to be done.
“It will be something that the bureaucratic machine will be happy to get out of its chest. “We are done, now let’s forget about that,” said Yekaterina Schulmann, a Moscow-based political scientist. She added that the vote was more a burden on the Kremlin’s political resources than an opportunity to win a new political mandate. “It will not be the source of additional legitimacy for the political regime or for the president individually.”
The government campaign has avoided reminding Russians that they are potentially backing Putin’s right to rule until 2036, which Schulmann said was the most divisive amendment. Instead, billboards have urged Russians to “preserve family values” or have featured images of the poet Alexander Pushkin saying “protect our language and culture.”
“I don’t know how the organizers of the campaign really sold it to [Putin] but it’s not that popular right now, “said Schulmann, noting that the president’s ratings have dropped since 2018.” So we see the children and Pushkin, so as not to antagonize but to consolidate the electorate. “
Putin himself hung up on the possibility of amending the constitution in 2012, but later boasted of his restraint by leaving the country’s founding document intact. When he returned to the idea in the past year, advisers understood that the campaign would be divisive. But despite calling the referendum, Putin has exhibited a characteristic disdain for campaign politics, barely defending his own measures.
“Putin believes that he has the support of the public, that they believe in him and his reforms, and for him this [vote] it’s just a formality, ”Stanovaya said, noting that he seemed much more invested in celebrating the rescheduled Victory Day parade than in the vote.
The vote was aimed at stabilizing elite circles, Stanovaya argued. “She needs a reference that she can show her elites and say, ‘I have public support to govern for as long as I think I need to. None of you have the right to discuss successors. “
There is still debate about whether Putin will actually return for terms five and six or simply wants to avoid becoming a lame duck. As he himself argued during a television interview last week, his possible return will spark discussions about a possible successor for the next four years. O 10. O 16.