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Gorbachev Pushes For Political Reform

June 28, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Tuesday proposed a redistribution of power in the Soviet Union to give new authority to the president and legislature. But he ruled out a multiparty system and indicated the Communist Party would retain control of local government.

In a 3 1/2 -hour speech opening the first Communist Party conference in 47 years, Gorbachev sketched a vision of a nation strikingly different from the authoritarian state built by Josef Stalin. He called for a country that would be ruled by law and guarantee individual rights.

″The Soviet people want a clear perspective,″ Gorbachev concluded. ″They want full-blooded and unconditional democracy. They want a rule of law without reservations.″

Within hours of Gorbachev’s speech, police in downtown Moscow arrested two groups of demonstrators trying to demonstrate for ethnic rights and the need for a multiparty system.

Although Gorbachev made his most specific proposals in the political and legal field, he also pressed for economic reform, particularly in agriculture, to feed the nation’s 284 million people.

The extraordinary conference will provide an arena for Gorbachev and his opponents to debate his plans for ’perestroika,″ the restructuring of the vast country’s economic system, and the reform of the political system.

Saying ″it is impossible today to describe in detail the concrete image of the future,″ Gorbachev proposed:

- To create a new 2,250-member Congress of Deputies that would elect a president and a 400- to 450-member, full-time legislature.

- To empower the president to oversee foreign and defense policy and appoint the head of government.

- To hand executive power to the government and local councils, known as soviets, and have local Communist Party chiefs elected to head their soviets.

The Soviet president now acts as a figurehead and the Soviet Parliament merely approves decisions of the party.

Gorbachev did not make clear what relationship the new president would have to his own position - that of party general secretary, which currently is the most powerful post in the nation.

While seeking to curb Communist Party power by law and promote a division of authority, Gorbachev made clear he had no intention of permitting rival parties to challenge Communist rule.

He also condemned efforts to redraw the boundaries of the nation’s 15 republics, signaling he won’t give in to Armenia’s demand to annex a mountain enclave belonging to a neighboring republic.

On agriculture, Gorbachev suggested expanding an experimental system permitting farmers to lease their land from state and collective farms into a nationwide program designed to give a quick boost to food production.

He said farmers should become the ″true masters″ of their land.

Addressing the more sensitive point of price reform, which necessarily would mean higher prices, the Soviet leader insisted, ″it is absolutely necessary to resolve this problem, no matter how difficult it may be.″

Gorbachev said overhauling the state price structure could ease food shortages and improve the availability of high-quality consumer goods.

Meat and milk are rationed in several regions of the Soviet Union, while state subsidies keep prices low.

Politburo member Alexander N. Yakovlev, asked at a news conference when ration cards would be abolished, refused to set a date but said food supplies must be increased as soon as possible.

″It is a political issue, a moral issue, a social issue,″ said the propaganda chief who is regarded as one of Gorbachev’s key advisers.

Yakovlev declined to fix a date for price reform, saying that five models are being studied, but ″the subject is so vast it resists embracing.″

Yakovlev was closely questioned about Gorbachev’s plans for political and legal reform and the extent to which they could take power from the Communist party, but he offered few details.

In his speech, Gorbachev said party and state functions will be more clearly defined later. He suggested they would not be separated from the party when he proposed that local soviets be headed by local Communist Party chiefs.

Economist Leonid Abalkin, a leading proponent of reform, won applause when he criticized the proposal during debate at the conference. Abalkin said it was undemocratic, since it appeared the party chief would be the sole nominee to head the soviet.

Neither Gorbachev nor Yakovlev made clear whether the principle of electing the Communist Party chief as head of the soviet would apply to the national political scene, where Gorbachev, as party general secretary, now holds supreme power.

Of the 5,000 delegates elected to the conference, 4,991 registered to take part in the Kremlin proceedings, Gorbachev said. They listened in silence through most of his speech, applauding only occasionally.

After Gorbachev’s address, which was broadcast live on TV and radio, the delegates broke for lunch, then gathered behind closed doors to discuss Gorbachev’s proposals, which Yakovlev said were approved by the ruling party Politburo eight days ago.

State-run radio and TV later broadcast excerpts of the debate. Radio Moscow said more than 100 delegates had asked for the floor at the conference, due to last at least through Friday.

In the economic section of his speech, Gorbachev attacked conservative bureaucrats he said had blocked reforms and even blamed the Central Committee apparatus for failing to head off maneuvers to slow his changes.

On human rights, Gorbachev called for an end to ″administrative pressure″ on religious believers to espouse the official creed of atheism, and for much stronger legal guarantees of privacy in the home, in the postal system and telephone calls.

″The law must reliably protect a human’s dignity,″ he said.

Gorbachev condemned, however, any attempt to set up an alternative political party or to exploit the new openness of Soviet society for what he called ″non-creative goals.″

Hours after Gorbachev spoke, promising freer expression and more attention to nationality problems, about 200 Crimean Tartars tried to stage a demonstration in Moscow. Police took them away in buses seconds after they unfurled banners demanding a return to the homeland from which they were deported by Stalin in the 1940s.

Nearby, police also detained members of a citizens’ group called the Democratic Union, which advocates a multiparty political system.

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