MOSCOW — A combative Soviet Congress, refusing to sign its own death warrant, rejected the power-realignment plan pushed on it Wednesday by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin.
It immediately was squeezed by a lobbying effort to make it reconsider.
"I have no intention of giving away--just like that--the powers that voters gave me," Viktor N. Fominikh declared defiantly before turning down the proposals put before lawmakers. Enough of his colleagues agreed to bring the Soviet overhaul--the project of this country's most powerful men--to a complete halt, temporarily anyway, on Wednesday.
This was to have been the third and final day of the Congress of People's Deputies. Instead, it will convene again today. The two-year-old body, dominated by career bureaucrats and Communist Party functionaries, was created as the country's Parliament, and Gorbachev, Yeltsin and leaders of nine other Soviet republics now want to scrap it.
In its place, Gorbachev and the others have proposed a bevy of interim institutions to catch up with the drastically altered political realities since the bungled right-wing bid to topple Gorbachev last month. In particular, they envision a new kind of Soviet Union--a "union of sovereign states," as Gorbachev says--where each republic can choose the extent of its participation.
But the ire of many Congress members at having such an important issue rammed down their throats, with a decision demanded within three days, bubbled to the surface when they were handed a compromise cobbled together by Gorbachev, Yeltsin and other republic leaders. Their compromise sought to rally the necessary two-thirds majority in the 2,250-seat Parliament to support their government revamp plan.
After two unexpected adjournments, the Congress gathered at 5 p.m. in the same giant hall of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses where the Bolshoi Ballet sometimes dances, with Gorbachev still exhorting his colleagues to pass his plan. He evoked rueful laughter at one point when he told the lawmakers, "I need to ask your advice."
"Give us the floor! Give us the floor!" angry shouts came back. Gorbachev was forced to agree to a full half-hour of debate, after the Congress shot down his attempt to restrain remarks by deputies to a total of 10 minutes.
Given the kind of parliamentary sleight of hand that often prevails in the Congress, Gorbachev and the deputies disagreed about the significance of the vote that ensued. But it was clear that the Soviet leader and Yeltsin, glowering silently on the dais beside him, did not get their desired results.
A resolution recognizing the "state sovereignty" of the constituent Soviet republics, requiring the new, free-form union and proposing collective agreements on economy and defense was accepted, 1,126 to 289, for "the basis for discussion," usually the first step in the Soviet Parliament to final adoption.
But when confronted with a second bill that would create the country's new executive and legislative branches--and in the process terminate the need for the Congress--the deputies voted 1,200 to 275, with more than 300 others pushing the "abstain" button or not casting ballots at all.
The electronic tally boards at the front of the hall flashed bright red: "Decision Not Adopted."
Many people seemed uncertain as to what the vote now meant, especially because legislative rules committees had said Tuesday that the government reforms that Gorbachev and Yeltsin proposed changed the constitution and required a two-thirds majority--1,500 votes--of the entire Congress for final adoption.
But Gorbachev tried to persuade the deputies after the fact that, just as on the resolution they had considered a few moments before, they were only being asked to consider the measure before them as submitted. And for that a simple majority was enough.
"We are not adopting the law! We are only adopting it as a basis for the discussion!" he said.
"\o7 Nyet! Nyet!\f7 " came the shouts.
The Soviet president, whose own temper was apparent more than once during the afternoon session, finally caved in.
"OK, OK," he said. "The law is still up in the air."
Opposing it were: a multifaceted group of representatives of the country's smaller ethnic groups who contend that their rights will no longer be adequately safeguarded; Ukrainians who wanted a jurist's opinion first to decide whether the law is compatible with their republic's declaration of sovereignty, and nostalgic conservatives aghast at the breakup of the Soviet monolith.
It is also highly likely that more than a few deputies, fed up with being used by Gorbachev and Yeltsin as little more than voting machines, cast "no" votes out of spite.
"Executive power is ordering around legislative power, and legislative power is putting up with it as though it needs it. People aren't being allowed to speak, nothing is explained--this is some kind of nightmare," said Sazhi Umalatova, a conservative Communist deputy.