People Should Expect More of Medvedev

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Sunday's election turned into a major vote of confidence for outgoing President Vladimir Putin and the course he has charted.

Dmitry Medvedev -- who garnered more than 70 percent of all votes cast -- has already pledged to deliver continuity. He will be expected to maintain the same course and Putin, who has already agreed to serve as prime minister, will be on hand to discourage any deviations.

Most Russians have a number of reasons to be pleased with the results of Putin's eight years in office and to wish for this course to continue, particularly with regard to the economy.

Standards of living have improved, even if the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider. Patriotic-minded Russians also have to credit Putin with reasserting Russia's role as a great power.

To some degree, even the proponents of democracy in Russia have to give Putin credit for leaving office in line with the letter of the Constitution -- but only to some degree. The election was, indeed, held largely in line with the letter of the Constitution and there was no widespread fraud documented.

It did, however, violate the spirit of democracy. Over the same period that incomes have risen and the country's influence has increased, the holding of free and fair elections has been rendered impossible.

Medvedev's landslide victory could not have been realized without the reforms introduced by Putin to strengthen presidential rule and the Kremlin's control over all areas of public life, including the suppression of even minor opposition and the subjugation of most national newspapers and all national television channels.

One or a number of debates with an articulate opposition candidate broadcast on national television might have been enough to dent Medvedev's chances for victory.

But there were no real election debates. Nor were real opposition candidates allowed to run or have their voices heard on national television. This seriously undermined the credibility of the vote.

Medvedev would do well to continue Putin's economic course, as well as introducing much-needed reforms and improvements to the country's ageing infrastructure and diversifying the economy to ensure sustainable growth and continued improvements in the quality of life.

But if Medvedev wants more for people than just material improvements, simply continuing Putin's domestic course will not be enough.

People also deserve the chance to exercise fully and freely the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution in a state governed by authorities that are both accountable and effective.

To deliver this, Medvedev will have to do more.