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Ally says Putin should be allowed third term

March 31, 2007|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The head of Russia's upper house of parliament, speaking immediately after being reelected to that post, declared Friday that the constitution should be revised to allow President Vladimir V. Putin to serve a third consecutive term.

Putin, whose approval ratings are consistently above 70%, has said repeatedly that he does not favor revising the constitution and that he plans to step down next spring. But he has never ruled out the possibility that he might allow the constitution to be changed and then run for a third term in the election scheduled for March 2008.

Changing the constitution, which limits the president to two consecutive four-year terms, requires the approval of sufficiently large majorities of both houses of parliament and two-thirds of the country's regional legislatures.

Sergei Mironov urged parliament to "consider amending the relevant constitutional provisions" and said regional legislatures should discuss the issue during the next two months. In addition to pushing a third consecutive term, Mironov proposed that the presidential term be extended to five, six or seven years.

"I think they have time to quite legally change the constitution before the election campaign and open an opportunity for the president to run for a third term," said Sergei Pashin, a professor of law at the Moscow Institute of Economics, Politics and Law. "Whether it is good for Russia is a political issue."

The Kremlin press service said there was no shift in Putin's stance. "The Russian president has repeatedly commented on the issue, and his position remains unchanged," it said.

Mironov, the upper house chief, also heads the recently formed Just Russia party, which aims to be the main competition to the United Russia party in December's parliamentary election.

Critics say the two pro-Kremlin parties are virtually indistinguishable, although Just Russia supports greater emphasis on tackling poverty and solving social problems.

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the lower house of parliament and head of United Russia, said in televised remarks that he opposed any amendments and that his party, which holds more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house, "will stand guard to protect today's constitution."

However, Lyubov Sliska, an influential member of United Russia and first deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, said she backed Mironov's suggestion, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

"I think the initiative is good," she said. "In any case, I am certain that Putin will make the final decision."

Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov assailed the proposal.

"Today the head of our state has more powers than a pharaoh and czar together once had, because it is the president who appoints everyone he needs and dismisses undesirable persons," Zyuganov told Interfax. Mironov made the proposal in "an attempt to gauge public sentiments," he added.

A survey last year by the Levada Center polling agency found that 59% of respondents reacted "very positively" or "somewhat positively" to the idea of amending the constitution to allow a third Putin term, whereas 29% disapproved.

Mikhail G. Delyagin, chairman of the Institute of Globalization Studies, a Moscow think tank, said he believed Putin had not made up his mind on whether to seek a third term.

"Putin doesn't want to keep this job," Delyagin said. "He wants to enjoy the pleasures of bourgeois life while he can. But under the circumstances, he may still rethink his stand. I believe he will make his final decision in December after the parliamentary elections, and in the meantime he will not strongly object to his comrades' efforts to change the constitution to give him some more leeway."

Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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