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Cablegate: Russia's Duma Passes Constitutional Amendments

VZCZCXRO6679
PP RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3371 3261245
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 211245Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0834
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS MOSCOW 003371

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PINR RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S DUMA PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
INCREASING TERMS

REF: MOSCOW 3265

1. (SBU) Summary: On November 21, the Russian State Duma
passed constitutional amendments proposed by President
Medvedev increasing the term of Russia's next president from
four to six years, and the terms of State Duma members from
four to five years. The proposed amendments must now go to
the assembly's upper house, the Federation Council, where
three-fourths of its members must vote in favor, after which
two-thirds of Russia's regional assemblies must vote in favor
before the amendments can become law. Russian media reports
that this could not take more that a month and the
constitution should be amended by the end of this year. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) On November 21, Russia's lower house, the State
Duma, passed on its third and final reading constitutional
amendments proposed by President Medvedev increasing the term
of Russia's next president from four to six years, and the
terms of State Duma members from four to five years. The
vote was 392 in favor and 57 (the Communist Party faction)
opposed. Earlier votes on the amendments' first reading on
November 14 (388-58) and second reading on November 19
(351-57) were similarly lopsided. The proposed amendments
must now go to the assembly's upper house, the Federation
Council, where three-fourths of its members must vote in
favor, after which two-thirds of Russia's regional assemblies
must vote in favor before the amendments can become law. The
next scheduled meeting of the Federation Council will be on
November 26.

3. (SBU) Critics have been surprised not with the result,
but rather the speed with which Medvedev and Putin
accomplished it. Some have noted that there was no serious
debate within the Duma on the proposed changes. Although
such changes had been considered over a year ago, Medvedev
did not campaign on them in the March 2008 presidential
elections. Communist Party Duma member Nikolay Ryabov has
belatedly argued that such changes should be the subject of a
referendum, but Duma Legal Committee head and United Russia
deputy Vladimir Pligin said that according to the current
constitution, a referendum is not required. While many
believe that the reason the changes were railroaded through
quickly (the next scheduled elections are not until October
2011) was fear that a prolonged economic crisis would cost
the government public support for the changes, opinion
remains divided over whether Medvedev will be set up as a
fall guy if the economic situation gets worse.

4. (SBU) Despite the overwhelming votes in support and the
results of a recent poll by the All Russian Public Opinion
Research Center (VTsIOM) showing that 56 percent of Russians
supported Medvedev's initiative to extend the president's and
parliamentarian's terms in office, there are still some
dissenting views. Members of the Yabloko Party have
continued their small protest outside the entrance to the
Duma. Sergey Filatov, head of Kremlin administration under
President Yeltsin, called the amendments yet "another way to
maintain the current government in power." Political analyst
Dmitriy Furman from the Europe Institute tried to shift
emphasis away from the actual term extension to discussion of
the "behind-the-scenes" processes through which Russia is
governed and the lack of any connection between the
government and the Russian people.

5. (SBU) Another of Medvedev's proposals, an amendment to
the Law on the Government requiring the government to report
annually to the Duma, passed the lower house in a unanimous
third reading on November 21, but this change will probably
not be discussed until after regional parliaments approve the
constitutional amendments increasing the terms of the
president and Duma members.
BEYRLE

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