We’ve known for a while that this was coming and now it’s happened. Russian voters have approved changes to the constitution that will make it possible for Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036.

With most of the nation’s polls closed and 20% of precincts counted, 72% 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…

Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.

“We look at neighboring 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’s plan to make changes to the Russian constitution began in January when Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and all of his government Ministers resigned. At the time it was clear the resignations were all about helping Putin get around term limits that he had already skirted once before. But there was disagreement about what the new plan was. Would Putin once again switch jobs with Medvedev? Would he take some other position in the government for a few years and then return?

Ultimately he just had his supporters in the Duma vote to reset the term limits allowing him to serve up to two extra 6-year-terms. That could have settled it but Putin wanted it to be clear that he was only doing this because the people demanded it so he planned a national referendum where people could signal their support for the changes. That vote was originally scheduled to take place in April but had to be postponed several months because of the coronavirus.

NBC News notes that revised versions of the constitution, with the changes voted on today already included, have already been on sale in bookstores in Moscow for several weeks. Apparently 100,000 of them were printed back in March when the Duma vote took place. So the fix appears to be in. CNN reports there are also reports of forced voting and ballot stuffing:

Even before the vote kicked off last week, independent outlets and NGOs posted dozens of screenshots and audio messages suggesting forced voting by employers of big corporations and state-financed organizations.

“In the past few days we have also seen a large numbers of ballot stuffing, so it feels like at some stage it was clear to [the organizers] that the administrative resources to mobilize controlled electorate are running out, they may also be voting in a slightly different way compared to a desired one and they’ve resorted to good old ways of rigging,” Stanislav Andreychuk, co-charman of the non-governmental group Golos, told CNN.

According to Andreychuk, this plebiscite is way less regulated than previous elections his organization monitored: Voting booths set up on park benches violate the secrecy of voting, the usual restrictions on releasing exit polls are not enforced and unregulated campaigning — aided by raffles promising apartments to lure voters to stations — muddy the voter’s right to freely exercise their will.

A group of protesters used their bodies to spell out 2036, the date to which Putin will be allowed to hold power, in Red Square. They were quickly arrested.

Finally, here’s a video clip put together by Radio Free Europe showing how Putin’s view of term limits and the inviolability of the constitution has changed over the years.

Update: Video of Putin voting today.

And here’s Putin’s pitch which he made to voters yesterday. Just look at that camera angle.  I guess the cameraman is on his knees.