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Gorbachev Calls for Progress on Political Reform

Times Staff Writer

Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Thursday issued a strong defense of his plans to overhaul the nation’s political system, and he said a major Communist Party conference in June will be asked to endorse those plans.

Declaring that preparations should begin now to revamp the system of government in advance of the party conference, the Kremlin leader said such moves are necessary if his attempts to revive the economy are to succeed.

Efforts to improve living conditions for Soviet citizens and raise the quality of consumer goods still leave a lot to be desired, Gorbachev said in a speech concluding a two-day plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee.

Gorbachev did not suggest reducing the leading role of the Communist Party in national life. “We are not retreating even one step from socialism,” he said, “from Marxism-Leninism, from everything that has been gained and created by the people.”

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However, he told the 300 or so senior party officials from all over the Soviet Union, the party’s functions should be clearly separated from government activities.

And he once again advocated more popular participation in selection of candidates for the governing councils--known as soviets--of cities, regions and republics.

“It is necessary that decisions of principled importance be worked out and adopted with the people’s active participation,” he said.

In the past, ordinary citizens have had little to say about who is elected to council membership or the decisions made by those bodies. Usually, a single candidate is proposed for each position by party officials and invariably elected by a nearly unanimous vote.

In recent months, however, the government has been experimenting with the principle of multiple candidates in selected local elections.

Gorbachev said that revamping the role of the governing councils must be given priority because they are the heart of the nation’s political system.

“It is in the way that soviets are formed and function that the democratic principles of socialism must be realized in the first place,” he said.

“This means upgrading our election system so that the process of forming the bodies of power will make for active involvement by the people,” he added.

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The Supreme Soviet, the nominal national Parliament, should also be examined with a view to improvement, Gorbachev said.

“We will re-think its role to increase the effectiveness of its activities,” he said. In its present form, the Supreme Soviet meets only a few days a year and always votes unanimously in favor of any proposal advanced by its leadership.

Without listing specifics, Gorbachev said that proposed changes would be submitted to the party conference for approval.

“Numerous problems have accumulated, and half-measures will not do,” he said.

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On the subject of perestroika, Gorbachev’s plans for reviving the stagnant economy, the Soviet leader sharply criticized the progress made so far in improving living conditions for average citizens.

He said economic growth rates in the last decade were based partly on “totally unjustified” increases in the sale of alcoholic beverages as well as inflation in world oil prices.

“If we look at the economic indicators of growth separately from these factors, we will see that during four five-year-plan periods, we had no increase in the absolute growth of national income,” Gorbachev said. “This is the real picture, comrades.”

Now that oil prices have dropped and his anti-alcohol campaign has reduced government revenues, he said, the Soviet Union faces “a most serious financial problem.” Gorbachev said that production of meat, milk and eggs all grew in recent years but that the overall food situation still is not satisfactory.

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In the same way, he said, a record 130 million square meters of housing were completed last year, but demand still has not been met.

“It is necessary to resolve the housing problem more speedily,” Gorbachev concluded.

As for consumer goods and services, he said, the situation “gives rise to serious concern” because of public impatience.

“In practical terms, there have been no tangible changes for the better in the quality of consumer goods,” he said. “The material and technical facilities for expanding services to the population are being built up particularly slowly.”

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