Moscow, Jan 24 (IANS) Russia's State Duma (Lower House of parliament) has approved in record time the first reading of constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin, which would siphon powers from the presidency to the government.On Thursday, some 432 of 450 lawmakers backed the package of reforms and now have 15 days to suggest modifications before a second reading, reports Efe news.Once approved by both Houses of Parliament, the reforms will, in theory, go to a referendum.Sergey Neverov, the leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party said: "I am calling on everyone to support in the first reading the important changes to the Constitution proposed by our national leader Vladimir Putin."They did so, in just two hours.There were no Kremlin-critical voices in the house as the reform passed with 432 in favour, no abstentions and no votes against.The communists, ultra-nationalists, social democrats - the only parties alongside United Russia with parliamentary representation, voted in tandem. There has been no liberal or radical representation in the chamber for more than a decade.Officials have tried to highlight the social policies in the proposed changes, the guarantees on minimum wage and pensions.Other lawmakers were welcoming of the power shift, with the State Duma set to be granted the ability to approve a prime ministerial candidate and the Senate the ability to appoint the attorney general.Several politicians and analysts have pointed out that, so long as the president proposes a candidate for prime minister, the Duma will continue to depend on the Kremlin.Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin congratulated lawmakers on demonstrating unanimity and urged them to replicate it in the second reading in just over two weeks.Critics, however, have taken aim at the rush and the lack of transparency surrounding the reform package, which Putin announced last week in his state of union, prompting the resignation of his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who made way for the sweeping changes to the balance of power.Opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is banned from holding office, said: "Our authorities like to take the population for idiots, but this time they have surpassed themselves."They organize a national vote that in an absolutely official way will not have the slightest meaning."The social-liberal Yabloko party, which is not represented in the Duma, said it would create an alternative Constitutional Council with lawyers, constitutional law experts and politicians to propose amendments.
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