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19 Nov, 2008 21:40

Presidential term extension one step closer

The Russian parliament has agreed to amend the constitution and extend the terms of office for both the Russian presidency and parliament. It was the second reading of the proposal presented by President Medvedev earlier this month.

The bill now needs to be debated in the Federation Council.

If it passes the amendments, Russia’s president will serve for six years and parliament for five. Currently, both serve a four-year term.

Russia would not be unique in using this structure. In Finland, for example, the president enjoys the same time in office. In Ireland, the term is a year longer.

The extended terms will begin to apply for those who win the next elections.

Vladimir Pligin from the State Duma Constitutional and nation building committee explained why he believes the amendment is necessary: “We believe that the term of four years may not be enough. In particular because we have to formulate the federal budget for two periods of three years each. So six years is optimal for the huge challenges facing Russia,” he said.

The amendments cruised through the hearing, gaining 351 votes with the hurdle at 300. The 57 against were all from the opposition Communist party, which also won support from small parties outside the Duma, the Democratic Yabloko party among them.

“We are here to remind Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov of what he thought about manipulating the constitution two years ago, when he said it should not be changed for the sake of one man. But now he's leading this process,” said its chairman Sergey Mitrokhin.

Apart from extending the terms in office the amendments also introduce a new scheme of governance for Russia. They call for the cabinet of ministers to be supervised by the Duma.

'More stable state'

The changes were proposed by Dmitry Medvedev during his state of the nation address earlier this month.

He believes they are needed to deal with current challenges facing the country such as the global financial crisis, and to help sustain Russia's progress while increasing accountability of politicians.

Speaking on Tuesday to journalists in the central Russian city of Izhevsk the president explained again what's behind his proposal.

“Any constitution or political system is a thing made by politicians, legislators and not something given from above. And it's an attempt to describe a political and legal system adequate for the country's present-day life,” he said.

"The world adopts constitutional changes and even new constitutions not because of some politicians' ambitions, although it might be the case sometimes, but because of a desire to create more stable legal and political systems. Some countries do it more often, some not so often. Russia should keep pace as well.

“My proposal is not spontaneous – it has been well thought through. I started thinking about it some five years ago but never thought I would have to translate it into reality.”