A major realignment within the Soviet Communist Party appears likely to follow the defeat of perhaps a quarter of the party’s nominees, many of them among the country’s most powerful officials, in the nation’s parliamentary elections.
As more defeats of regional and local party leaders were reported Tuesday, a senior Soviet official said the party will have to review the positions of those leaders whose candidacies to the new Congress of People’s Deputies were rejected in the weekend elections.
“The party must decide why it happened,” Gennady I. Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry’s chief spokesman, said of the huge protest vote. “We will have to examine this promptly and thoroughly. Party leaders must have not only the confidence of the party, but the confidence of the people.”
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had warned a special party conference last summer that “the party’s authority will be put to a serious test” by the contested elections envisioned in his political reforms. But he declared that party leaders nonetheless had to be made “more effectively answerable to the working people” if the country’s broad strategy of political, economic and social change are to succeed.
When its nominees were defeated, Gorbachev added, the party “will have to draw the necessary conclusions"--and he may now use such a wide-ranging review to purge more conservative officials from the party’s senior ranks on grounds that they have lost the faith of the people.
The list of those defeated now includes the top three party and city officials in Leningrad, five regional party secretaries in the Ukraine, the mayors of Moscow and Kiev, many senior party and government officials in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, several military and naval commanders and regional party leaders from the Soviet Far East across Siberia and Russia to Byelorussia.
The most prominent loser was Yuri F. Solovev, first secretary of the Leningrad regional party committee and a candidate, or nonvoting, member of the ruling Politburo. Although running unopposed in his home district, he failed to win a majority of the votes cast as a reported 60% of those who went to the polls scratched his name off their ballots. Under Soviet law, a candidate must receive at least half of the votes cast to be elected even if unopposed.
But many other regional first secretaries, powerful political barons in the party structure, were similarly defeated in grass-roots campaigns that galvanized the long-simmering popular discontent into an unprecedented protest vote that defied the party machine and broke decades of enforced discipline.
The party’s power was not seriously at stake. The candidates were competing for 1,500 seats in the new Congress of People’s Deputies and subsequent election to the Supreme Soviet, the strengthened national Parliament. Party control of both is assured at this point because of the predominance of Communists among the candidates and the selection of 750 additional deputies from a variety of groups, including the party, the Communist Youth League, the trade union federation and other allied groups.
Yet some senior party leaders who won election found that their authority had nevertheless been diminished significantly by the heavy popular vote against them.
Vladimir V. Shcherbitsky, the party leader in the Ukraine and the most senior member of the Politburo, was elected as a deputy from the industrial city of Dnepropetrovsk, but only after 63,000 people, more than a quarter of the electorate in the carefully selected district, struck his name from their ballots. Several of his top assistants were defeated in their election bids.
Were it not for the 100 seats reserved for party representatives in the congress, some other leaders might have been defeated even running unopposed.
Yegor K. Ligachev, regarded as the leader of party conservatives within in the Politburo, drew the largest number of negative votes, about 12% of those cast, within the party’s relatively conservative Central Committee, and his prospects in open elections were acknowledged as uncertain.
Gorbachev also was elected as a party representative, but drew only 12 negative votes out of the 641 cast by Central Committee members and other senior officials.
Although full results are not yet available, informed Soviet sources said that at least 20% and perhaps more than 25% of the party’s nominees--candidates put forward by party groups and receiving at least unofficial party support--were defeated, and most of these were party officials.
Altogether, about 82% of the 2,895 candidates in the election were party members, but most were running independently--or in virtual opposition to party policies.
‘Real Anger’ Seen
“We had no idea of the depth of the popular discontent,” a senior Soviet journalist who reports on party affairs said Tuesday. “There is real anger among the people, and it is focused on the party and precisely on the party’s leaders.”
Officials from the party’s Central Committee headquarters have already begun a detailed, district-by-district examination of the party’s losses and near-losses, according to informed Soviet sources, and the Politburo is expected to discuss the results, at least informally, at its regular weekly meeting.
“Once the shock wears off, there will probably be two reactions,” an editor at a party journal commented. “Some people will blame those who proposed the elections, starting with Gorbachev. Wiser heads, however, will start examining who was defeated and why and then putting forward ideas to remedy the party’s clear alienation from the people. . . .
“A first step on this course will be to remove those who do not enjoy the confidence of the people from positions of leadership. Purge is too harsh a word, but we should at least have a thorough house-cleaning this spring.”
Spokesman Gerasimov said that, in the case of a city party leader who had been defeated, “I could imagine that a session of the city party will discuss this and then take the corresponding decision.”
He added: “But you should not see any automatic mechanism in this. Each case will be considered separately.”
Protest of a different kind was registered in Yerevan, the capital of troubled Soviet Armenia, where nationalists organized a boycott of the election, according to the government newspaper Izvestia. Turnout in Yerevan was only 53%, according to election officials, compared to 72% in all of Armenia and about 85% nationwide.
The party has a chance to recover some of its lost prestige next month with a full-scale effort to win the 100 contests to be decided in runoff elections on April 9 between the two top vote-getters in multi-candidate contests where no one received the required 50% of the vote on Sunday.
In addition, new elections will be held for a further 100 seats where neither of two candidates received half of the votes cast because of popular opposition to both of them.