MOSCOW — More than three-quarters of the voters in a national referendum endorsed Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's concept of a "renewed" national federation, partial returns showed Tuesday, and a Gorbachev adviser said the Kremlin will quickly exploit the mandate by accelerating its political and economic program.
"We believe--and I think this will coincide with his (Gorbachev's) view--that the referendum simply demands the immediate beginning of concrete actions," Grigory I. Revenko, the presidential adviser, told reporters. Specifically, he added, "I mean the announced movement toward a market economy."
Hours later, Gorbachev took a major and long-expected step in that direction by issuing a presidential decree increasing the prices of foodstuffs, goods for children, building materials and consumer goods, as well as fees for communications and transportation services, effective April 2.
Some consumer items were exempted from price increases in Gorbachev's Tuesday night order, including medicines and medical goods, coffee, gasoline, kerosene, electricity, gas, coal, firewood and vodka, according to a brief report on the still-unpublished ukase from the official Tass news agency. The prices of some scarce items, like cars and electronics goods, reportedly will rise tenfold.
Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov, who had announced the Soviet government's intention last month of raising prices on food and consumer goods by an average of 60%, told state-run television that state subsidies for consumer products are running at 225 billion rubles, or $360 billion at the highly inflated official exchange rate.
"Due to distortions in the price system, the scale of unprofitability has exceeded admissible limits," Pavlov said, expressing his worry at the tidal wave of red ink. As in February, he assured the Soviet population that compensation payments will be made--no less than 60 rubles ($96) per person a month before the price increases go into effect.
In the most complete report to date on the results of the Sunday referendum, Vladimir I. Orlov, chairman of the organizing commission, told the Supreme Soviet legislature that 77.3% of the voters in constituencies for which official returns were available cast ballots in favor of maintaining the Soviet Union as a single state. The total turnout was 82.2%, he said.
"The absolute majority of Soviet voters voted for the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal, sovereign republics," Orlov told lawmakers, summarizing the question as posed on Sunday's ballot.
Official returns were only available from 436 of the country's 1,059 constituencies, with complete results not expected before Thursday.
Revenko, however, told a news conference that according to preliminary results, 105 million of the 136 million people who voted in the nine Soviet republics that officially participated in the referendum cast ballots in support of Gorbachev's vision of a new Soviet federalism. A total of 178 million were eligible to vote.
Revenko, however, said there is no reason for "euphoria" over the ballot-box results, indicating that the Soviet leadership had perhaps expected a larger margin of victory. Six republics officially boycotted the referendum, and according to Tass, only 50% of the Muscovites who voted did so in favor of preserving the Soviet state.
"What, after all, does it mean that 20%, 30%, 40% of the people said 'no?' " Revenko asked. "This is the most important factor to be analyzed. Many questions arise in this connection--from the poorly formulated question to the sharp rejection of the very notion of the union."
Asked by reporters what the Soviet leadership plans next, Revenko outlined actions in three areas: steps to promote the long-heralded but delayed transition to a market economy, finalization of a new union treaty to be signed by the Soviet republics that would grant them limited sovereignty--and that some republics have already rejected--and ending the "war of laws" that has often set local leaderships against Moscow.
Revenko also discounted the importance of the clear-cut support shown by a separate referendum in the Russian Federation in favor of Boris N. Yeltsin's request for creating a popularly elected Russian presidency he can run for. Yeltsin is now the chairman of Russia's legislature.
"I expected even higher results," Revenko commented. "Given the fact that we already have a number of presidents (in Soviet republics), the largest people and the largest territory want to restore their dignity."
In his report, Orlov told Supreme Soviet members that, in violation of decisions by the national legislature and Gorbachev, Moldova's president, Alexandru Mosanu, tried to block polling stations in the capital, Kishinev, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, Orlov said, 650,000 people in Moldova cast ballots.
Pro-Soviet loyalists in military units, enterprises and Communist Party organizations also voted in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
In the nine republics that officially took part--Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Azerbaijan and the five republics of Soviet Central Asia--from 74% to 95.2% of those voting supported Gorbachev's plan for a renewed Soviet Union, preliminary results showed.