Defiant Party Chief is Voted Lithuania’s President
MOSCOW (AP) _ The defiant Communist Party leader of Lithuania was chosen president of that independence-minded Soviet republic on Monday in a landslide vote by the legislature.
The election of Algirdas Brazauskas by a vote of 228-4, with 19 abstentions, was a clear endorsement by the republic’s Supreme Soviet legislature of his stand challenging Moscow and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Gorbachev visited Lithuania from Thursday to Saturday to try to persuade Lithuanian Communists to reverse their Dec. 20 decision to break from the national Communist Party. The Lithuanians would not budge and Gorbachev failed to end the schism. He concluded his visit Saturday with the mild statement, ″We have laid a good foundation for continuing the dialogue.″
The official news agency Tass reported Monday’s balloting.
Sources in the republic’s media said the Supreme Soviet also voted to restrict voting rights for soldiers and sailors to those who have lived in Lithuania for at least 10 years, in effect limiting it to native Lithuania residents and a few long-serving officers.
Brazauskas, 57, replaced Vytautas Astrauskas, who resigned. Astrauskas, 59, had served as Lithuania’s president since December 1987. Lithuanian activists saw him as a conservative, but not a vehement foe of the independence drive.
In keeping with Gorbachev’s drive for democratic reforms, Brazauskas faced alternative candidates: national legislator Kazimeras Motieka and Romualdas Ozolas, a leader of the pro-independence group Sajudis.
Brazauskas has been the republican Communist Party’s first secretary since Oct. 20, 1988. His new title, the equivalent of president, is chairman of the Presidium of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet.
Lithuanian TV journalist Eduardas Potasinskas, a close observer of Lithuanian politics, said Monday’s vote will ″strengthen the position of Brazauskas in dealing with Moscow.″
Gorbachev pleaded for unity repeatedly while in Lithuanian, but was confronted by pro-independence demonstrators at many stops. Public opinion strongly supports independence for the republic, which was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 while occupied by the Red Army.
Potasinskas said that the Supreme Soviet in later action voted to impose the 10-year residency requirement as of Feb. 24 for military personnel to vote in local elections.
That practically limits voting rights to natives of Lithuania who are serving in their home republic or to a handful of officers who have served in the same post for many years.
The national government has struck down similar attempts to restrict voting rights in other republics.
No discussion took place at the Supreme Soviet of how many people it would effect, and the Soviet Union does not publicize the number of military personnel stationed in its republics.