Ukraine's Constitutional Court, in a move strengthening President Viktor Yanukovich's position, extended parliament's mandate on Friday by one year and ruled that the next election could be held in autumn 2012.
After constitutional changes earlier this year the parliamentary term was set at four years -- which would have meant an election being held in spring 2011.
But the Constitutional Court, which has leaned in favour of Yanukovich on other issues, supported a move by his supporters in parliament to extend the term to five years and hold an election in autumn 2012.
Analysts say it is likely that Yanukovich's Regions Party will now press for changes to the voting system to improve its prospects further at the next election.
These are likely to include introduction of a single-candidate system to run parallel with voting for party lists -- something which the political opposition says will weigh in the Regions' favour in an election.
Commentators say Yanukovich and his party are also certainly hoping to capitalise on euphoria following the Euro 2012 soccer tournament which Ukraine will co-host with Poland.
The Constitutional Court move continues a pattern of gradual consolidation of power by Yanukovich whose arrival in power in February, after a fractious run-off against former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has marked a swerve in foreign policy towards Russia.
Earlier this year, the court returned to the presidency powers lost to parliament in 2004, and Yanukovich now has the authority to appoint the prime minister and members of the government.
His party improved its grip on local power in elections last month for district councils and mayors which the opposition said were rigged. The United States led Western criticism of those elections, saying they did not "meet standards for openness and fairness...".
The opposition has expressed fears that Yanukovich is trying to establish a "power vertical", similar to that in Russia, which threatens the ex-Soviet republic's democratic progress.
Many rights groups say press freedoms are being increasingly violated in the country and pro-democracy non-government organisations (NGOs) harassed.
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