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Russia amends constitution to extend presidential terms

[JURIST] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday signed into law [RIA Novosti report] amendments to the Russian Constitution [materials] extending presidential terms [Article 81(1) text] from four to six years and terms for parliament members [Article 96(1) text] from four to five years. The amendments were recently approved by both houses of parliament and all 83 regional parliaments [JURIST report], and will not apply to Medvedev's current presidential term, which expires in 2012. Medvedev also approved amendments which provide for the Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] to require annual reports from government agencies, and to allow the body to question government officials regarding agency performance. The changes are the first to be made to Russia's post-Soviet constitution since its adoption in 1993.

Critics fear the move is designed to afford a longer third for former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] should Medvedev step aside. Kremlin officials, however, contend the amendments will strengthen the political system. Despite speculation about Medvedev's possible ambitions to eclipse Putin, experts note any fissures in their partnership could severally hinder the government [AP report]. Medvedev proposed the changes in his first state of the nation [text; JURIST report] address in November.

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