Vote Backs Gorbachev but Not Convincingly : Soviet Union: His plan to preserve federal unity is supported--but so is Yeltsin’s for a Russian presidency.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appears to have won the mandate he wanted to preserve the Soviet Union as a federal state but far less convincingly than he had hoped, according to preliminary results Monday from the country’s first national referendum.
At the same time, Gorbachev’s political rival Boris N. Yeltsin received greater voter support on an issue that directly challenges Gorbachev’s leadership: creation of a strong, elected presidency for the Russian Federation, the country’s largest republic.
With the vote being as much a referendum on Gorbachev and his reforms as on the country’s future shape, initial returns showed deep political divisions in Russia and the Ukraine, the two key Soviet republics, which a concerted campaign by Gorbachev and the Communist Party had failed to close.
While 70% and more of those who went to the polls in most outlying regions endorsed Gorbachev’s concept of a “renewed” Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, barely half of those in Moscow and Leningrad voted for it.
In some other urban centers, including Kiev in the Ukraine and Sverdlovsk in the Ural Mountains, angry voters rejected it, apparently to protest Gorbachev’s policies. In the Siberian oil center of Tyumen, where discontent has been growing, it barely passed.
Yeltsin’s proposal for a Russian presidency, however, appeared from the initial returns to have won wide support, securing approval even in conservative strongholds where Communist Party officials had campaigned hard against it.
Although generally described now as the president of Russia, Yeltsin is technically chairman of the Russian Federation’s Parliament. If he were to win direct election to the new post, he could claim a popular mandate that Gorbachev, who was chosen by the national Parliament virtually without opposition, cannot.
While full results from Sunday’s referendum will not be available until later this week, reports from the official Soviet news agency Tass and Radio Moscow indicated that Gorbachev will be able to claim sufficient support to press ahead with his plans for a new union treaty laying the foundation for what he calls “real federalism.”
For Gorbachev, resolution of the “national question” has become the first step to pulling the Soviet Union out of its deepening political and economic crisis. Warning of civil war, he had sought popular backing to push the country’s fractious republics into a new agreement on their powers and those of the central government and on sharing of the country’s wealth.
The plebiscite’s impact will be diminished, however, by the refusal of six of the country’s 15 republics, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to participate and by the greater support given by Ukrainian voters to a separate proposal on the republic’s sovereignty.
To win maximum support, the question was phrased broadly: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal, sovereign republics in which the human rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?”
In the Ukraine, 70% of those participating were in favor as pro-Soviet workers in the eastern part of the republic outvoted nationalists in the western Ukraine who want full independence; a separate resolution on Ukrainian sovereignty was endorsed by 80%.
But voters in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, rejected, 53% to 44%, Gorbachev’s proposal for preserving the union. In Lvov, on the Polish border, 83% endorsed a separate resolution on full independence, and only 25% supported Gorbachev’s proposal to preserve the Soviet Union.
In the five Central Asian republics, 90% or more of the voters responded “yes” to the proposal in turnouts that ranged from 88% to 98%.
In Byelorussia, 83% of the participating voters endorsed Gorbachev’s proposal.
There were no final results from Russia, which has about half of the country’s 200 million registered voters. With reports from only 12 of the republic’s 88 regions, Tass said that 74% had voted “for preservation of the union” and 23% against.
In Russia, however, the two questions--Gorbachev’s on the future of the Soviet Union and Yeltsin’s on the creation of a Russian presidency--had turned the referendum into a major test of strength between the men.
In the final days before the vote, Yeltsin had implicitly urged a “no” vote on the union question, mocking Gorbachev’s warnings that civil war would result if it failed; he had called on his supporters to “declare war” on Gorbachev and the rest of the leadership and treat them as “enemies.”
“We feel that the president of Russia should be elected not by a narrow circle, but by . . . all of the people,” Yeltsin said, urging that leaders throughout the Soviet Union face direct election.
Gorbachev, for his part, had sharply criticized the creation of the Russian presidency as “dangerous,” presumably because Yeltsin would likely win it, and while he was casting his ballot Sunday, he suggested that Yeltsin was a “madman.”
In Moscow, 50.02% voted for Gorbachev’s “renewed union,” but 78% voted to establish the Russian presidency. In Leningrad, 53% voted for the union, but 80% for the presidency.
In Sverdlovsk, Yeltsin’s home base, only 34% of the voters called for the preservation of the union as proposed by Gorbachev, but nearly 90% supported creation of the Russian presidency.
Gorbachev appeared to have won the support of 60% to 70% of the voters in most of the major Russian industrial centers, according to scattered reports, but Yeltsin received perhaps 10% more.
Soviet election officials reported that hundreds of thousands of residents of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had voted in special polling centers after the governments there had refused to conduct the referendum. They claimed that the overwhelming majority, as much as 97% in Lithuania, supported Gorbachev’s proposal.
Earlier referendums, however, had endorsed independence for the three republics, and local officials dismissed the weekend votes as fraudulent, asserting that anyone could vote repeatedly at any polling station since there were no lists of voters.
The southern republics of Armenia and Georgia plan their own referendums later on the issue of independence or continued membership in the Soviet Union, and Moldova is still wrestling with the difficult issue of whether to remain part of the Soviet Union or rejoin Romania.
Soviet Referendum Results
Unofficial preliminary results of Sunday’s nationwide balloting*
“Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal, sovereign republics in which human rights and freedoms of any nationality (people of all ethnic groups) will be fully guaranteed?
Republics approving resolution (percent in favor)
Republics boycotting the vote
Voting was held in some isolated, heavily Russian areas of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Moldova.
* Figures for Azerbaijan and Russia are unavailable.
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