By: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The Kremlin this week won a referendum on constitutional changes allowing President Vladimir Putin potentially to extend his rule until 2036, a vote that critics and election monitors have denounced as rigged.

The vote produced an overwhelming result in favor of a package of amendments — officially 77.9% supporting, 21.3% against — that the Kremlin hailed it as a “triumphant referendum of confidence” in Putin.

Russia’s Central Elections Commission and Interior ministry have said voting occurred without any serious violations.

But independent election monitors claimed the process included unprecedented fraud, with authorities throwing out key safeguards to prevent ballot stuffing or public workers being pressured into voting.

The package of amendments included resetting Putin’s term counts from four to zero, meaning he could run for two additional six-year terms in 2024 instead of stepping down. Putin could remain in office until his 80s.

But why did Putin hold the vote now, four years before his term expires? And what will it mean for Russia?

ABC News’ Patrick Reevell explains.

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