Winners Must Make Good on Mandate

Now that United Russia has claimed a landslide victory, it has secured its much-desired mandate -- and the accompanying responsibility to make good on its campaign promise to follow President Vladimir Putin's policies once he leaves office.

There is no question that the State Duma elections were far from free or fair. United Russia, however, probably would have won a majority -- albeit with a smaller margin -- even without the voter intimidation, pro-party media bias and possible falsifications.

But the larger the victory, the larger the responsibility to give people what they voted for -- a continuation of the stability and rising living standards that they have enjoyed under Putin.

Putin should allow the Duma to have a greater say in political life so that it will be able to carry out this mandate. Laws are already in place that allow the Duma to wield significant clout. For example, lawmakers can reject the president's candidate for prime minister and summon ministers for briefings on their work that could be used to increase Cabinet accountability.

United Russia appears to be taking a first step toward embracing its mandate, with a promise Sunday night to nominate a candidate to run in the presidential election in March.

But United Russia must not stop there. Among other things, it should:

• Act like a real political party by holding debates and developing an ideology beyond "Putin's Plan," the digest of presidential speeches that the party adopted as its platform for the elections. The ideology should provide the party's general stance on issues such as corruption, natural resources, taxation, foreign investment and racism.

• Crack down on corruption.

• Pass legislation that lays out unambiguous "rules of the game" for foreign investors.

• Tackle bureaucracy. Steps are desperately needed to cut red tape and make life simpler -- and less corrupt -- for those who live here. One way to do this is to open "one-stop windows" that eliminate the necessity of obtaining multiple signatures from multiple agencies for a single document. Also, visa and registration rules should be simplified.

• Raise pensions and wages for military officers, who make less than trolley bus drivers, without a sharp increase in inflation. This could be accomplished by taking money from the federal budget, not by printing money.

• Actively support small and medium-size businesses, the engine of economic growth in most developed countries. If these businesses continue to be suffocated by the tax authorities, bureaucracy and raiders, the country's economic growth will continue to rely too heavily on natural resources.

In the long run, the country, the people and the political system would benefit from these changes. Unfortunately, however, United Russia does not have a strong record of focusing on the long term.