Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet Communist Party’s general secretary, was elected the nation’s president Saturday, completing a two-day realignment of the Kremlin leadership and further consolidating his power.
Addressing the Supreme Soviet, the country’s Parliament, after it chose him as president, Gorbachev pledged “energetic and decisive steps” to implement his reform program, which has lost much of its momentum and encountered some serious opposition.
A beaming Gorbachev said in his 10-minute acceptance speech that perestroika, as his political, economic and social reforms are known, is “a historic choice . . . to put the country on a modern level, to achieve a substantial improvement in the lives of the people.”
His election, part of a series of dramatic changes in the Kremlin leadership last week, confirmed his strong political position and increased his ability to reshape the Soviet system.
Perestroika has entered a “crucial phase,” Gorbachev said.
“What we need now is practical movement forward,” he told the 1,500 deputies. “Nothing can be put off until a later date. People see and understand our problems and difficulties, but they demand more decisive and energetic steps.”
Gorbachev replaced Andrei A. Gromyko as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which is the constitutional position of the Soviet president.
Gromyko, 79, who had been president since 1985 after serving as the Soviet foreign minister for 28 years, is one of four veteran members of the party’s ruling Politburo who were retired at a meeting of the party’s policy-making Central Committee on Friday to make way for Gorbachev supporters.
Gorbachev ensured that Gromyko, who enjoys some popular es-teem, received an honorable send-off before the Central Committee, the Supreme Soviet and again on national television, thereby avoiding the political error committed by the late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, who dismissed a president and then a premier without a word of thanks in the late 1970s.
Praising Gorbachev’s reforms, Gromyko urged the country to unite behind them. “Unity of the ranks of the party and the party’s unity with the people are necessary,” he said, if the reforms are to be successful. “We have that unity in the Central Committee and in the Politburo.”
Both the Central Committee meeting and the special session of the Supreme Soviet were called on only two days’ notice as Gorbachev moved decisively to reinvigorate the reform effort by placing his supporters in key positions. He sought to replace conservative party and government officials who he believes have diluted or slowed the reforms.
There still has been no explanation for the urgency with which the meetings were called and which sparked widespread speculation outside the Soviet Union of a crisis in the Kremlin and a possible challenge to Gorbachev.
Atmosphere of Serenity
But the smooth proceedings on Friday and Saturday, which took place in an atmosphere of complete serenity in Moscow, left no doubt that Gorbachev had been the master of the situation.
In addition to electing Gorbachev, the Supreme Soviet on Saturday named a new head of the KGB, the Soviet security service, promoted a woman to the post of deputy premier in charge of social problems and elected a close Gorbachev aide as his deputy in Parliament.
Col. Gen. Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, 64, deputy chairman of the Committee for State Security, as the KGB is formally known, was promoted to replace Viktor M. Chebrikov, the outgoing chairman, who was shifted to the Central Committee to oversee legal affairs.
Alexandra P. Biryukova, 59, who was elected as a non-voting member of the Politburo on Friday, was named a deputy premier in charge of the government’s social development bureau. She is the first woman to reach the higher echelons of the Kremlin power structure in nearly 30 years. Biryukova had previously worked as a secretary of the Central Committee and as a trade union leader.
And Anatoly I. Lukyanov, 58, who was also named a non-voting member of the Politburo on Friday, was elected first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, where he will assist Gorbachev, with whom he went to law school in the 1950s. He replaced Pyotr N. Demichev, 70, a former minister of culture detested by most Soviet intellectuals.
Plan to Strengthen Presidency
Although the Soviet presidency has been a largely ceremonial post, Gorbachev plans through a series of constitutional changes to turn it into an executive presidency next spring, giving him as the party leader greater governmental powers to put his other reforms into effect.
But the move is not without controversy. When Gorbachev first proposed the constitutional changes that will make the party leader a strong executive president at the head of Parliament, many party members complained that this was concentrating too much power in the hands of one person.
His supporters have argued that the move is actually part of the political reforms shifting much of the party’s present powers to elected councils, known as soviets, at all levels of the government, and that party leaders must be in such pivotal positions to put party policies into effect.
They have also suggested that Gorbachev’s election as president will help protect him from any plots by conservatives to remove him and thus will help ensure implementation of his reform program.
Recalling the ouster of the late Nikita S. Khrushchev by the party Central Committee in 1964, they say that, while the party’s general secretary can be removed by the Central Committee at a closed-door meeting, the president will have a fixed term in office, probably five years, and his removal would require a public vote by Parliament under the planned constitutional changes.
Gorbachev told the Supreme Soviet, of which he is now chairman, that combining the top party and state posts is the first step toward strengthening it and other elected legislative bodies and thus bringing more people into the government.
“The soviets will take on their shoulders the major burden of state work,” the 57-year-old leader said. “As the situation changes, we must change accordingly.
“The soviets must become the highest authority on their territory and eliminate the shortcomings of (political) stagnation. The party will facilitate the enhancement of the role of the soviets.”
Sketching a sweeping shake-up of the country’s political and economic system that he has proposed, Gorbachev said increasing emphasis will be placed on local self-government and on putting an end to “the dictatorship of central ministries.”
Gorbachev, who was elected the party’s general secretary in March, 1985, is the fourth Kremlin leader in a row to become simultaneously head of state--a practice begun by Brezhnev in 1977, who pushed aside President Nikolai G. Podgorny largely to end the awkwardness of being No. 1 but without a title that reflected this.
Brezhnev’s two immediate successors, Yuri V. Andropov and Konstantin U. Chernenko, also combined the two posts but without attempting, as Gorbachev is, to transform the presidency.
V. I. Lenin, the Bolshevik revolutionary who founded the Soviet state, served as premier. His successor as political leader, Josef Stalin, used the party post as his sole power base until World War II, when he also took on the post of premier.
Khrushchev served as premier as well as party first secretary until his removal. The party Central Committee then decided that the two posts should never again be combined under one man.