| MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's constitution, drafted in 1993 after
parliamentary rebellion against then-President Boris Yeltsin, places
overwhelming powers in the hands of the president.
Ten years later, there are opposition fears that the constitution could
used to increase those powers even further by extending President Vladimir
Putin's time in office.
Putin, Russia's most popular politician with approval ratings around
percent, is set to easily win his second four-year term in March - and
last under the charter's two-term limit.
But many of his supporters have suggested amending the constitution
allow Putin to run for a third term.
According to preliminary results, the Dec. 7 elections gave the pre-Kremlin
parties the two-thirds majority required to push through such an amendment
after liberal parties failed to win the 5 percent of the vote to get into
the legislature and the Communists lost seats.
``With such a majority, Putin will do whatever he wants,'' said Grigory
Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal Yabloko faction, which failed
to win the votes to get into parliament.
Putin sought to dispel talk of amending the charter at a Kremlin reception
Friday on the 10th anniversary of the Yeltsin constitution.
``Strict observance of the constitution is the basis for the successful
development of the state and civil accord in society,'' he said. ``And
those who try to speculate on the theme of possible amendments to the
law should know this well.''
Skeptics say Putin thinks the topic is premature since he has yet to
``It would be naive to trust the president's word now, when we have
that can approve any amendments,'' said Sergei Reshulski, a Communist
An amendment can be initiated by the president, parliament, Cabinet
local legislatures. It needs the approval of two-thirds of the members
the lower house, the State Duma, a three-quarters majority in the upper
house and support of local legislatures in two-thirds of Russia's 89
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who is supportive of Putin,
suggested that Putin might consider an amendment to extend his time in
office if his second term is successful.
``I don't exclude that he may use such an opportunity at the end of
term,'' Gorbachev said.
Columnist Yulia Latynina said Putin himself may be undecided.
``The issue isn't what he wants now, but what he will want in three
years,'' she wrote in the biweekly Novaya Gazeta. ``No one knows that,
Other analysts say Putin would be unlikely to extend his tenure because
would confirm Western fears of authoritarian tendencies and make him an
So far, no amendments have been made to the constitution, which was
approved in a nationwide referendum on Dec. 12, 1993.
The vote came a little more than two months after Yeltsin sent troops
tanks against rebellious lawmakers holed up in parliament who had declared
him ousted. They claimed the old constitution gave parliament the power
sack the president.
Once the rebellion's leaders were put in jail, Kremlin experts wrote
constitution giving broad powers to the president and leaving little
authority for parliament.
The constitution allows the president to rule by decree, appoint Cabinet
ministers and sack the entire Cabinet at his whim. The president needs
lawmakers' approval to appoint a prime minister, but has the right to
disband parliament if it refuses to approve his nominee three times.
After his March 2000 election, Putin strengthened federal authority
amending the constitution, trimming the powers of provincial governors
had enjoyed broad autonomy under his predecessor.
With a two-thirds majority in the new Duma, Putin could be tempted to
further strengthen the Kremlin's already tight controls over Russia's
Mercurial nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party votes with the
Kremlin, has suggested governors should be appointed by the president,
elected by popular vote.
Others have proposed an amendment calling for lawmakers to be dismissed
they fail to regularly attend sessions and meet with voters - a potentially
powerful lever of influence over those who fail to toe the Kremlin line.