Russian state pollster VCIOM yesterday published an exit poll showing a vast majority of Russians backing proposed constitutional reforms, days before the end of voting.
About 76 percent of respondents voted for the package of amendments, which range from better pensions and minimum wages to a reset of term limits that would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to run again in 2024 and potentially stay in power until 2036.
The vote, which the opposition has slammed as illegal and prone to rigging, began on Thursday and is due to end on Wednesday.
VCIOM, which stands for the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, polled more than 163,000 voters in 25 regions, with about 70 percent agreeing to say how they voted.
The co-chairman of election monitoring group Golos, Grigory Melkonyants, told Business FM radio that the publication of figures before the end of voting could unduly “influence the will of citizens.”
This is why the publication of exit polls is banned before the end of voting, he said.
VCIOM said it decided to publish the figures because of “high demand” for the data.
“It’s not against the law to publish,” center director Valery Fyodorov said in an e-mailed comment.
Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova said the body had recommended to wait until the end of voting, but that the center did not do anything illegal.
The constitutional vote has to abide by its own special law, rather than Russia’s regular election legislation, which forbids publication of data during a “silent period” immediately before and during voting.
“The law does not regulate this,” Pamfilova told Business FM radio.
The Kremlin reluctantly postponed the vote, originally scheduled for April 22, as COVID-19 cases increased and officials imposed restrictions to slow the spread.
People in separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine who have Russian citizenship are traveling to Russia to vote on the amendments.
Officials of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics have organized bus services to 12 polling stations in the neighboring Rostov region in Russia, in what is seen by many as part of the widespread effort to boost turnout at the controversial plebiscite.
Some of the voters told The Associated Press that the constitutional changes would boost the powers of the Russian authorities and bring peace to the separatist regions. Others said that they hoped the changes would allow the republics to become part of Russia.
Russian authorities have gone to great lengths to lure voters to polling stations, and allowing residents of eastern Ukraine to participate is part of this effort, independent analyst Vladimir Frolov said.
Russian authorities are “obsessed with the results” of the vote, and rebel-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine can contribute some “manageable voting,” he said.
More than 220,000 Ukrainians living in areas held by Russia-backed rebels received Russian passports last year
.Additional reporting by AP
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