- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2008

MOSCOW | Russian lawmakers gave preliminary approval Friday for extending presidential terms from four years to six - a move observers say could pave the way for Vladimir Putin to return to the presidency.

The popular Mr. Putin, now prime minister, was barred constitutionally from seeking a third straight term as president. His protege, Dmitry Medvedev, resoundingly won the post in March elections.

But analysts speculated Mr. Medvedev could resign early, propelling Mr. Putin into the role of acting president and triggering elections in which Mr. Putin could run and would likely win.

If presidential terms are extended to six years as expected, that could set Mr. Putin up for another 12 years in office for a total of 20 years as Kremlin leader including his previous terms.

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted 388-58 to pass the constitutional change Friday in the first of three readings, with opposition coming from the Communist faction. The legislation must also be approved by the upper house of parliament and by a majority of regional legislatures. The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates all of the legislative bodies.

Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky voiced support for the measure, saying it would bring Russia “into conformity” with other nations, such as France, where the president serves for six years.

But he suggested legislators were failing to think for themselves, and instead were rubber-stamping Kremlin legislation. “The only thing that makes me upset is that had the president offered to cut the term to three years, we would have applauded and voted the same way,” he said.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov railed against the measure, suggesting it was designed to vest even more power in the presidency.

“He has more power than the general secretary [of the Soviet Union], the czar and the pharaoh altogether,” Mr. Zyuganov said. “If tomorrow you choose the person, who is controlled by no one, for a six-year term, it will be an even bigger tragedy and danger for the country” than the economic crisis.

Lawmakers also voted to extend Duma legislators’ terms from four years to five years.

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