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Russian parliament could approve 7-year presidential term - paper

MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's parliament may pass a bill this year to extend the presidential term from the current four to six or seven years, a respected daily said on Friday.

Kommersant said, however, that the country's new leader, due to be elected next month, would not enjoy a longer stay in office as the initiative had been designed with the highly-popular current president, Vladimir Putin, who is barred by the Constitution from running for a third consecutive term, in mind.

The paper said that there was a possibility that the ruling pro-Kremlin United Russia party could propose amending the Constitution to this end.

The paper quoted Putin's words to reporters on the sidelines of a G8 summit last June that "four years are a rather short term [for a president] in modern Russia," and suggested prolonging it to between five to seven years.

United Russia, which enjoys a clear majority in the lower house of parliament, would have no trouble getting the bill passed by the State Duma should it choose to propose it. The speaker of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house, Sergei Mironov, has long supported such an idea.

The idea seems to enjoy a certain popularity in the country, Kommersant reported, citing the independent pollster Levada Center, which said 55% of respondents had approved of the idea last October, with 34% opposed.

The paper said Putin's supporters had decided to postpone the debate until after the presidential polls to prevent his successor from taking advantage of the extended term and to allow Putin to return as president in 2012.

Dmitry Medvedev, a first Russian deputy prime minister and Putin's longtime ally, is widely expected to win the impending March 2 elections. Putin has agreed to become premier if Medvedev is elected president.

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