Moscow, Nov.28 : Not so long ago, Vladimir Putin was adamant about changing Russia's Constitution to allow a president to extend his or her four-year term thrice consecutively.
"The terms of presidential authority will not be changed under the current president," Putin had said unequivocally in 2001.
Now, months after leaving office and becoming prime minister, Putin is helping current President Dmitry Medvedev to rewrite the Constitution to extend the presidential term.
According to the Washington Post, this abrupt reversal has sparked speculation in Moscow about whether Putin is preparing to take back his old job as president.
Three weeks after Medvedev raised the issue in his first State of the Nation address, lawmakers are rushing to approve the first substantive amendments to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since its adoption in 1993.
The proposal would extend the presidential term to six years and that of members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, from four years to five. A separate measure would also give the Duma greater oversight over the prime minister.
Given Russia's increasingly autocratic political system, there is little doubt the amendments will pass. There is also little doubt that Putin, who picked Medvedev to succeed him and remains the dominant figure in the Kremlin, is behind the plan.
In making the proposal, Medvedev said longer terms were needed to ensure that the president and members of the Duma "have enough time to put their promises into practice" between elections.
Putin also endorsed the change, saying it was part of "a package to improve the structure of government."
Many analysts contend Putin is laying the groundwork for an early election and a return to the presidency, as soon as next year. They speculate Medvedev could use the constitutional change as a reason to resign, triggering a special election that Putin would easily win.
Putin stepped down as president in May because the Constitution barred him from seeking a third consecutive term. But nothing in the Constitution prohibits a return to the presidency after an interregnum.