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President Putin can now rule until 2036

Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036 as initial results of a nationwide vote showed on Wednesday.

Partial results, announced five hours before polls closed, indicate the former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister will win the right to run for two more terms.

That means he could remain president for 16 more years.

The Central Election Commission said just over 70% of votes counted across the world`s largest country had supported changing the constitution. Almost 29% had voted no of the 2.68% of ballots counted. Fuller results are due at 1900 GMT.

Russians have been encouraged to vote with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments in the same reform bundle, such as the pensions protection and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.

One-off payments of 10,000 roubles ($141) were transferred to those with children at Putin`s order as people headed to polling stations on Wednesday, the last day of the vote, held over seven days to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“I voted for the amendments to the constitution,” Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said. “We need radical changes and I`m for them.”

Others voted for the changes with less enthusiasm.

“I didn`t read about the amendments if I`m honest,” another voter, Lyudmila, said. “What`s the point of voting if they`ve already decided for you. It`s like that in our country – read something and vote. I voted.”

Turnout had reached nearly 60% by midday, election officials said. The required turnout is 50% and the amendments will pass if they are backed by a simple majority of voters.

Putin, 67, made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in an eve-of-vote speech on Tuesday. They would allow him to run for another two six-year, consecutive stints after his current term expires in 2024.

Putin has said he has yet to decide on his future. Critics say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.

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