Russian parliament backs longer presidential terms

November 14th, 2008 - 10:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Nov 14 (DPA) Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, signalled overwhelming support Friday for legislation that would extend the nation’s presidential term from four years to six.The measure, which still faces its second and third readings next week, garnered the support of 388 of the Duma’s 450 members.

When President Dmitry Medvedev suggested the constitutional amendment last week, it was billed as a way to provide more continuity in government operations. But some analysts have speculated that the proposed extension could be a manoeuvre to get former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin back into the Kremlin.

Putin had to give up the presidency earlier this year due to term limits. But media speculators have suggested that the new law clears the way for him to take back the position from his hand-picked successor after the country’s next elections and then resume power for up to 12 more years.

“The president has more power than a secretary general (of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party), a tsar and a pharaoh combined,” said Gennadi Syuganov, head of the communist party, according to media reports. His caucus was the only one to oppose the legislation Friday.

Other groups also demonstrated against the legislation outside the Duma, noting that the rapid action on the bill - the vote comes only nine days after Medvedev suggested it - is merely an effort to retain the grip on power enjoyed by Medvedev and Putin.

There is little doubt that the legislation will be approved next week, since the Duma is dominated by a pro-Kremlin party headed by Putin. Putin signalled his support for the legislation Thursday.

The ex-Kremlin leader has been criticised for centralising power during his eight years in office. For example, he replaced direct elections of regional governors with presidential appointments. He also consolidated much of Russia’s political power into one party that he controls.

The Duma Friday also voted to extend the term of office of legislators from four to five years and to require annual accountability reports from the prime minister.

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