Vladimir Putin has urged Russians to vote for constitutional changes that would allow him to run again for president twice, calling the reforms a guarantor of stability, security and prosperity.
Mr Putin made his appeal at the scene of a bloody World War II battle between the Red Army and the Nazis on the eve of the main and last day of a seven-day nationwide vote that will change the constitution for the first time since 1993.
Under the proposed changes, which state exit polls suggest will be backed by more than two-thirds of voters, Mr Putin would be allowed to run for another two six-year back-to-back terms after his current term expires in 2024.
That could see the former KGB officer, now 67, stay in office until 2036, though Mr Putin has said he has yet to take a final decision on what he wants to do.
"A coronation of the czar": The industrial Russian city that once backed Vladimir Putin is no longer a stronghold for him, with residents frustrated over declining living standards. https://t.co/YQNwKkvjrK
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Critics and staunch supporters are convinced he will run again, while some analysts believe he has not yet made his mind up but wants to keep his options open until the last minute so as not to become a lame duck.
“We are not just voting for amendments. We are voting for the country in which we want to live, with a modern education and health system … for a country for whose sake we are working and want to pass onto our children and grandchildren,” Mr Putin said.
“We can only guarantee stability, security, prosperity and a worthy life for people through development.
“Our sovereignty depends on our own responsibility, our own sincere feelings of patriotism and concern for the Motherland.”
Mr Putin made no mention during his speech of how the constitutional changes could affect his own political career, a constant feature of the official campaign to encourage people to vote which has stressed other amendments rather than the one that would allow him to stay in power until 2036 if re-elected.