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22 Dec, 2008 22:16

Constitutional adjustment one signature away

The decision to amend the Russian Constitution has been approved by the country's Federation Council and will now be forwarded to the president.

The amendments, drawn up by the Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev to extend presidential and parliamentary terms to six and five years respectively, have already been approved by the majority of the Russian Parliament as well as Russia's local legislative bodies.

After being signed by the head of state, the adjustments to the Constitution will officially come into effect.

They were proposed by President Medvedev during his state-of-the-nation address in November.

He believes they will help Russia face current challenges such as the global financial crisis, as well as sustain Russia's progress while increasing the accountability of politicians. “It is necessary to have a stable power for a longer period of time. It’s a pragmatic approach to the construction of the country’s governing,” says Vladimir Pligin, Head of the State Duma Constitutional Law Committee.

At the same time, it took less than two months for the amendments to swiftly cruise through the readings in the federal and regional parliaments, and this rush triggered much speculation over early elections.

“I cannot find any other rational explanations for doing this except for the idea to organise early elections – if and when it will be needed,” says Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Nikolay Petrov.

Russian officials are ruling out such a possibility.

“We are speaking about the next election, and for now all the Russian state bodies will be in power for a normal period of time which was indicated in the Constitution of the Russian Federation – that means four years for both the State Duma and for the President,” Pligin says.

The Russian constitution is relatively young, but it is being amended for the first time in its 15-year history.

“I’m afraid when you’re starting to amend the Constitution – well, you can finish with entirely new things,” Petrov argues.

Although the amendments caused heated debates many say the constitution is still a law, which can be amended. “There are two chapters of the Constitution that are untouchable: Chapter 1: the main principles of the construction of the Russian Federation, and Chapter 2: the rights of the people,” explained Pligin.

The amendments will also require the government to regularly report to the State Duma and these changes will come into effect the moment the bill becomes law.