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Independence Activists in Latvia Miss Two-Thirds Majority

March 19, 1990

MOSCOW (AP) _ Latvia’s People’s Front emerged victorious today after the Baltic republic’s first free elections in 50 years, but initial results showed it failed to achieve the majority needed to press for independence.

Meanwhile, reformers claimed victories in crucial runoff elections Sunday in Russia, Byelorussia and the Ukraine, the Slavic heartland that accounts for 80 percent of the Soviet Union’s territory and two-thirds of its population.

In Moscow’s Proletarsky district, former political prisoner Victor Bulgakov defeated Yuri Gorbachev, a local KGB official, and became a member of the city council.

And in Leningrad, pro-democracy activists claimed many victories in individual races and estimated they would control at least 65 percent of the city council, said Elena Zelinskaya of the Northwest Information Agency.

Communist Party officials scored some victories, she said, mostly in the ″closed″ electoral districts such as army bases, where campaigning is not allowed.

Activists had hoped Sunday’s elections to parliaments in the Baltic republics of Latvia and Estonia, annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, would follow the lead of nearby Lithuania and bring independence supporters to power. Estonia has not yet reported any election results.

Lithuania’s parliament was taken by independence activists in February and early March elections, and legislators declared the republic independent on March 13.

The Soviet Congress declared the move illegal and President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Friday gave the republic three days to respond. He later offered to meet with Lithuanian lawmakers and a delegation arrived in Moscow for talks today, just as the deadline was expiring.

Latvia followed Lithuania in legalizing political parties several months ago. No such move was made in Estonia but several parties put forward candidates without interference. The Soviet Parliament legalized multiple political parties for the entire country last Tuesday.

In Latvia, People’s Front supporters won 108 mandates to the 201-seat parliament, a large majority among the 170 legislators elected, according to initial results cited by the Soviet news agency Tass. But independence activists needed a two-thirds majority to change Latvia’s constitution.

Among the newly elected lawmakers were 97 Commmunist Party members, 34 of whom were supporters of the People’s Front. Party officials lost badly in the countryside but were victorious in Latvia’s capital of Riga, Tass reported.

Voter turnout in Latvia was 70 percent, Tass said.

Thousands of Popular Front supporters rallied in the Latvian capital of Riga Sunday, urging voters to support their movement. At least five other parties, including the Green or environmental party, competed in the Latvian elections, Tass said.

In Estonia, local journalist Michael Taro predicted the People’s Front would win about 35 of the 105 seats in the republic’s parliament, with 15 or 20 more going to other pro-independence groups.

Throughout the Slavic republics, from Moscow to Vorkuta in northern Russia, reformers ran against Communist Party and government officials. Voters chose among candidates in some 1,610 runoffs, held after no candidate gained 50 percent of the vote in the main round on March 4.

In Moscow city council races, the pro-democracy bloc claimed 10 of 14 contested seats, said Irina Boganseva of the Voters’ Club.

Update hourly