Duma Backs 6-Year Presidential Term

ReutersOther Russia supporters holding signs reading "Hands off the Constitution" during a demonstration Friday evening.
State Duma deputies approved legislation in a first reading Friday that would extend the presidential term to six years.

The 388-58 vote came just over a week after President Dmitry Medvedev abruptly announced in his state-of-the-nation speech that he wanted to amend the Constitution to extend the presidential term from the current four years.

"The Communist Party completely voted against the bill," Communist Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov said by telephone after Friday's vote, adding that he believed some deputies from A Just Russia had abstained.

The Communist Party has 57 seats in the 450-seat Duma.

Several Communist deputies, including Kharitonov, urged the Duma earlier Friday to take the bill off the agenda.

"Six years is a very long term. If a president works well over four years and everything goes fine, he will be voted in again in any case," Kharitonov said.

The bill ensures a difference in time between the presidential and parliamentary elections, allowing for "calm preparations," United Russia's first deputy chairman, Vladimir Pekhtin, said in a statement released after the vote.

The two elections are now held within four months of each other.

It was unclear when the second and third readings of the bill would take place.

The head of the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, Vladimir Pligin, initially recommended that the Duma approve it in all three readings Friday. He later suggested that the second and third hearings be held Wednesday.

Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Friday that the final readings would take place this week.

The legislation, which also calls for the terms of Duma deputies to be extended from four to five years, has sparked speculation that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to return to the Kremlin for two six-year terms and that Medvedev might step down early.

Gryzlov denied that Medvedev planned to leave office before his term ends in 2012. "Everyone must work to the end of his term," he said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin led a rally protesting the bill outside the Duma on Friday morning. The party does not have any seats in the Duma.

In the evening, opposition leaders Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov joined about 100 activists waving banners reading "Hands off the Constitution!" and "Enough lies, enough blood, enough Putin!" at a second rally.

Medvedev's measure is "a cynical message to the Russian population and the rest of the world. This regime -- this clique -- is saying, 'We are staying no matter what,'" Kasparov said.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told the Duma that the legislation would bring Russia "into conformity" with countries such as France, whose president serves for five years. But Zhirinovsky suggested that the deputies were rubber-stamping Medvedev's proposal. "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.