[JURIST] Russian president Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] Wednesday proposed constitutional amendments extending the presidential term from four to six years, and the term of members of the State Duma [official website, in Russian] from four to five years. The proposed amendments would change Article 81(1) [text] and Article 96(1) [text] of the Russian Constitution [text], the first changes to that document since it replaced its Soviet-era predecessor [text, in Russian] in 1993. Medvedev made the proposals during his first state of the nation address [text] to the Federal Assembly, saying that they would promote the effective implementation of necessary reforms. He cast the term extensions as "clarifications":
We are not talking about constitutional reform but about a correction to the constitution; about important, but refining amendments that do not touch the political and legal essence of the existing institutes.
Fearing that the proposed amendments are an attempt to orchestrate a third term for former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin [BBC profile], a group of Russian opposition figures, including Garry Kasparov [personal site; JURIST news archive] of the United Civil Front (UCF), a former Union of Right Forces [official website] leader, and leaders of the Yabloko Party [official website], announced plans [RIA Novosti report; UCF statement] to form a new party to protect the Constitution and oppose the initiatives. The Moscow Times has more.
Medvedev, the former head of Russian gas company Gazprom [corporate website], was elected to the Kremlin after Putin served two consecutive terms, the constitutional term limit. Concerns about the fairness of the election were sparked by free speech restrictions prior to the election, the last minute disqualification [JURIST reports] of former prime minister and Putin critic Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile], and concerns about Putin's continued influence in the new administration.