[JURIST] Russia's State Duma [official website, in Russian] Friday approved [RIA Novosti report] amendments to the Russian Constitution [materials] that would extend presidential terms [Article 81(1) text] from four to six years and terms for Duma members [Article 96(1) text] from four to five years. The measure, which passed 392-57, was framed by supporters as a way to provide political stability in light of the country's economic difficulties, but the country's opposition Communist Party [party website] and other critics [Moscow Times op-ed] have said that less frequent elections are simply a way for a majority party to more easily maintain power. Some have speculated that the presidential term extensions have been specifically designed [AFP report] to give former president and now prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; BBC profile] additional time as president should current president Dmitry Medvedev [official website; JURIST news archive] step down so that Putin can again run for the presidency. Before becoming law, the measures approved by the Duma must also be approved by Russia's Federation Council [official website, in Russian], or upper house of parliament, and least two-thirds of the country's regional legislatures.
The amendments were proposed by Medvedev in his first state of the nation address [text; JURIST report] to the Federal Assembly earlier this month, and would be the first amendments to the constitution since it replaced its Soviet-era predecessor [text, in Russian] in 1993. Shortly after the changes were proposed, Duma officials said they would expedite consideration [JURIST report] of the amendments.