Voters overwhelmingly approve a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide poll, partial results show, allowing President Vladimir Putin to extend his two-decade rule further.

Preliminary results are displayed on a screen after polls closed following a weeklong nationwide vote on constitutional reforms, at the commission's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2020.
Preliminary results are displayed on a screen after polls closed following a weeklong nationwide vote on constitutional reforms, at the commission's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

Russian voters have approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

With most of the nation's polls closed on Wednesday and 20 percent of precincts counted, 72 percent voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.

For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.

By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65 percent, according to election officials. In some regions, almost 90 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Critics question turnout figures 

On Russia's easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, officials quickly announced full preliminary results showing 80 percent of voters supported the amendments, and in other parts of the Far East, they said over 70 percent of voters backed the changes.

Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.

"We look at neighbouring regions, and anomalies are obvious — there are regions where the turnout is artificially (boosted), there are regions where it is more or less real," Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, told The Associated Press.

Putin voted at a Moscow polling station, dutifully showing his passport to the election worker. His face was uncovered, unlike most of the other voters who were offered free masks at the entrance.

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Protests in Moscow

In Moscow, several activists briefly lay on Red Square, forming the number "2036" with their bodies in protest before police stopped them. 

Some others in Moscow and St Petersburg staged one-person pickets and police didn’t intervene.

Several hundred opposition supporters rallied in central Moscow to protest the changes, defying a ban on public gatherings imposed for the coronavirus outbreak. 

Police didn't intervene and even handed masks to the participants.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies