Russia's upper house approves extension of pres, parl terms

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Moscow, Nov 26 (UNI) Federal Council, the upper house of Russian Parliament, today approved the constitutional amendments bill to extend the presidential term from four to six years and parliamentary term from four to five years.

The debate in the Federation Council was very brief, lasting no more than a quarter of an hour.

The amendments were passed by 144 votes to one, with 126 votes needed to secure the approval of the bill.

The Senators participating in the debate unanimously agreed that the proposed amendments would increase stability in the country, ensure continuity and increase the accountability of the President and Parliament.

The bill was last week adopted by the lower house, the State Duma, in three readings.

Despite broad support among the political elite, there is increasing speculation about proposed extension being rushed through. Some observers say the bill was fast-tracked to pave the way for the return of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as President.

''The Kremlin wants to be ready in case early elections are needed due to the development of the economic crisis,'' Mr Nikolay Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the changes were needed for practical reasons.

''We agreed to these amendments not because we like this hall so much, or this Constitution, or these amendments. We just need more time for real work, whereas before we had been constantly preparing for election campaigns,'' he said.

The Communist faction in Parliament opposed the bill.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said, ''The current President has more power than the CPSU General Secretary, Tsar and Pharaoh all together.'' After the Federation Council's approval, the bill has to be endorsed by two-thirds of Russia's regional lawmakers who have a year to consider the amendments.

Following the approval by the regional legislatures, the bill will finally go to the President for his signature.

Some experts say the changes may well become law before the year is out.

If completed successfully, this would be the first change to Russia's post-Soviet Constitution since it was adopted 15 years ago.

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