MOSCOW, November 14 – Russia’s parliament was on Friday expected to approve constitutional changes extending presidential term lengths, a move analysts suspect could lead to Vladimir Putin returning to the presidency.,
The website of the State Duma said a first reading would be held on constitutional changes "relating to changing the term of office of the Russian president and of the State Duma."
The changes, announced by President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month, would extend presidential terms from four to six years and the Duma’s mandate from four to five years.
Approval of Russia’s first ever changes to its 1993 constitution requires the assent of both houses of parliament and of two thirds of Russia’s regional assemblies.
The Duma, which is overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Kremlin deputies, is expected to wave through the proposals without serious objection, despite criticism from analysts that the changes are being rushed.
Second and third readings on the legislation could take place as soon as next week, Alexander Moskalets, a deputy on the Duma’s constitutional law committee, said on Thursday.
A deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, has denied the changes are intended to strengthen the presidency, saying "it should be seen as a balanced model for a new political construct."
The changes have sparked fresh speculation that Medvedev, who succeeded Putin as president in May, could use the pretext of constitutional changes to step down early and make way for a return to the post by his mentor.
Both men have played down such claims without rejecting them outright.
Predicting economic turmoil ahead for Russia, Vladimir Ryzhkov, a commentator and former opposition deputy, said in Friday’s Moscow Times newspaper: "Putin might try to keep a step ahead of the game once again.
"Using pretexts such as the new constitution and the need to strengthen the state in the face of the crisis, he might through Medvedev announce snap presidential and parliamentary elections as early as March or April."