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Gorbachev Wins a Strong Presidency : Soviet Union: The vote in Parliament is overwhelming. He is expected to be elected to new post as early as today. End of party monopoly is also approved.

March 14, 1990|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, in a decisive political victory Tuesday, won the broad powers that he says are necessary to promote further political and economic reforms and to hold the Soviet Union together through the resulting turmoil.

The Congress of People's Deputies, the national Parliament, approved both the creation of a strong executive presidency and, again as proposed by Gorbachev, the end of the Communist Party's constitutional monopoly on political power.

"We are about to take one of the greatest, most significant steps in the history of our government," Gorbachev said before the deputies voted in the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses. "It is a giant step for the benefit of democracy and in the defense of democracy."

The deputies approved the new executive presidency by a vote of 1,817 to 133, with 61 abstentions. Despite last-minute parliamentary maneuvering by some liberal deputies, Gorbachev is expected to be elected, perhaps as early as today, to the new post for an initial four-year term.

Under the new constitutional amendment, Gorbachev will have the authority to rule by decree in many circumstances, power that he contends is necessary to implement the major political and economic changes necessary to pull the country out of its deepening, multiple crises.

"Presidential power must lead to the flowering of perestroika in our multinational state," Gorbachev said, referring to his reform program.

The first move that leading economists hope he will take is to accelerate the country's economic reforms by dismantling state industrial monopolies and quickly introducing long-delayed changes in the pricing system.

The amendment abolishing the Communist Party's "leading and guiding role," initially the source of contention but now widely accepted as overdue, passed 1,771 to 164, with 74 abstentions. This clears the way for the establishment of a full multi-party political system.

Taken together, the votes for a stronger president, who in the future will be elected in a nationwide vote, and to end the Communist Party's monopoly on power constituted a distinct political break for the Soviet Union. In a move toward the Western form of democracy, the power that previously lay with the party now shifts to the president and Parliament.

Further constitutional amendments were approved that would permit private entrepreneurs to own and operate their own businesses, effectively ending the state monopoly of ownership of all means of production and introducing a mixed economy with state, cooperative and private ownership.

To win approval of the controversial executive presidency, Gorbachev reached a major, precedent-setting compromise Tuesday afternoon with deputies from the Soviet Union's increasingly restive constituent republics on limiting his new powers on their territories.

Under the amendment adopted, the Soviet president will be able to declare a state of emergency in a constituent republic or suspend its parliament only with the agreement of that legislature or, if that cannot be obtained, with the approval of the full Supreme Soviet, the national legislature.

The compromise, in effect, maintains the existing legal situation.

Under the original proposal, the president would have been able to act unilaterally. Nationalists in several republics objected, contending that this violated the sovereignty that they are guaranteed under the Soviet constitution. Gorbachev had complained earlier that when anti-Armenian violence broke out in the republic of Azerbaijan in January, the central government was unable to act because of the clumsy procedures for declaring a state of emergency and the refusal of Azerbaijani authorities to halt the rioting or accept peacekeeping forces.

Without the compromise, however, the new executive presidency would probably have obtained only the barest minimum of votes necessary for passage--a majority of two-thirds, or 1,501, of the 2,250 deputies, with every abstention and absence counting, in effect, as "no."

The measure had already been opposed by the 400-member Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, which functions as a radical parliamentary opposition to the government, and by many deputies from the Soviet Union's Baltic republics, from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and from other regions where the central government's authority is a major issue.

With this opposition, the margin of passage might have shrunk to no more than 40 or 50 deputies, and Gorbachev's victory would have been substantially diminished--to his considerable embarrassment if deputies from the non-Russian half of the country, as might have happened, refused to endorse his new powers.

In the end, his retreat on this issue was an example of the increasingly typical give-and-take of Soviet politics.

Gorbachev offered further compromises, giving up, for example, the right of appeal if the president's veto is overridden by the required two-thirds of each house of the Supreme Soviet.

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