MOSCOW -- In a protest vote that will echo across the Soviet Union, senior Communist Party officials were defeated in Moscow, Leningrad, the Ukraine and the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the country’s first contested national elections virtually since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution brought the party to power.
Partial election results showed Monday that in one defeat after another, many of them stunning in their margin, official party candidates bore the brunt of the rising popular anger over shortages of consumer goods and poor living conditions, over pollution and fears of nuclear power, over the country’s undiminished bureaucracy and the lack of national self-determination.
Among the unofficial candidates sweeping to victory was Boris N. Yeltsin, who had been dismissed as the Moscow party leader and a non-voting member of the ruling Politburo because of his radical populism. He won 89% of the more than 5.7 million votes cast in a citywide constituency.
Party Hold Not at Stake
The party’s hold on political power was not directly at stake in Sunday’s voting for the Congress of People’s Deputies, the country’s new legislature, and its victories vastly outnumbered the defeats, according to the results released by election officials here. Full results from the weekend voting should become available Wednesday from all 1,500 constituencies.
But never in its 71 years in power has the party’s leadership been so broadly and sharply challenged at home, and that challenge now confronts President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It was Gorbachev who proposed the elections as a way of energizing the country and propelling it into further reforms and who must now deal with the results.
As the scope of the party’s setbacks emerged Monday, Gorbachev stressed in a statement that the value of the elections transcended the immediate victories and defeats. It was vitally important for the future of the country, he said, to give the people a chance to voice their opinions and then to listen to those views.
“The main moving force in perestroika is Soviet man,” he told the official news agency Tass, referring to his program of political, economic and social reforms, “and today we can register the fact that Soviet man has spoken up--the voters’ intense activity has shown that.
‘Master of the Country’
“And even if not everyone is pleased by the outcome of the elections--well, there is nothing that can be done about it. The master of the country has spoken.”
Yet, perhaps not even Gorbachev, for whom the whole election process is a key element of his reform strategy, was prepared for the scale on which party candidates were rejected in elections that were designed as much to protect them as to permit popular challenges against them.
In Moscow, Yeltsin’s victory in the country’s largest and most prestigious constituency came at the expense of the official party candidate, Yevgeny Brakov, the manager of a giant automotive plant in Moscow, who received less than 7% of the vote.
Yeltsin, who now has a popular mandate that approaches Gorbachev’s, immediately began making plans to form a bloc in the new legislature and fight for the program of faster reform on which he was elected.
As the results were announced at Moscow’s City Hall, the scene of two pro-Yeltsin demonstrations before the election, crowds of Yeltsin supporters gathered outside, shouting “We won! We won!” and then taking up the rhythmic chant of his campaign, “Yel-tsin, Yel-tsin.”
Yeltsin also began to make plans for his election to the Supreme Soviet, the country’s newly strengthened legislature of about 450 people that will be drawn from the 2,250 members of the Congress of People’s Deputies next month. He hopes to form an influential bloc of 30 to 40 deputies in the Supreme Soviet.
“My spirit is full of joy, and of concern about what I can realistically do to help Muscovites, to help all our people,” he told hundreds of supporters outside his office at the State Construction Committee. “The battle is far from over--in fact, we have only begun.”
Moscow’s mayor, Valery Saikin, meanwhile, was beaten by Nina Ageyeva, the forewoman of a team of house painters. Ageyeva herself failed to get 50% of the votes required for election, so that the district’s race was voided and a new election will have to be held later. But by running against Saikin and winning more votes than he did, she evidently succeeded in her goal of challenging the mayor to account for his administration of the Soviet capital.
In Leningrad, the top two party leaders and the city’s mayor were apparently all defeated.
Names Crossed Off
Yuri F. Soloyev, a voting member of the Politburo and the regional party leader, was omitted from a list of victors provided by election officials to local news media, although he was unopposed. That implied that more than half the voters crossed his name off their ballots in a massive vote of no-confidence.
The city’s first secretary, Anatoly Gerasimov, received only 15% of the vote, according to Tass, and lost to a previously unknown shipbuilding engineer, Yuri Boldyrev, who received more than 74%.
The city’s mayor, Vladimir Khodyrev, was also omitted from the official list of winners, according to editors at the official newspaper, Leningrad Pravda.
In Lithuania, candidates from the Lithuanian Movement for Perestroika, known in Lithuanian as Sajudis, won 30 of the 42 seats at stake, and they will compete in runoff or new elections in nine others.
The Lithuanian Communist Party’s first secretary and his deputy were elected unopposed--after Sajudis withdrew its candidates in a gesture of good will--but the republic’s president and prime minister were defeated by their Sajudis opponents.
“We will send a full Sajudis team to Moscow to press our case for sovereignty now,” Vytautis Landsbergis, the Sajudis chairman, said by telephone from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. “We have a clear mandate from the people, a mandate that the party can only envy and not challenge.”
In eight Lithuanian districts and scores of others around the country, runoff elections will be required April 9 under Soviet election law because, with multiple candidates contesting the same district, no one received more than 50% of the votes.
As in the Moscow district involving the capital’s mayor, a ninth Lithuanian district was left undecided by the voters Sunday, when they apparently rejected both candidates by failing to give either the required 50% of the votes. In all districts where this stalemate between two candidates occurred, the elections were voided and new elections will have to be held before the end of May.
In neighboring Latvia, the party’s first secretary, Jan J. Vagris, won by what Tass described as “a tiny margin” after vigorous challenges from the left and the right. On the left, a candidate from the Latvian Popular Front called for the republic’s secession from the Soviet Union and its full independence, while one the right, a Russian charged that there had been too many concessions to the nationalists.
Altogether, candidates from the Latvian Popular Front or those who had received its endorsement, including Latvia’s popular president, Anatoly V. Gorbunov, won 25 of the republic’s 29 seats, according to local newspaper editors.
Party Leaders Defeated
In Estonia, the other Baltic republic where nationalist sentiment is at an all-time high since the forcible incorporation of the three states into the Soviet Union in 1940, candidates from the Estonian Popular Front won half the seats, defeating a number of local party leaders and Russians from a rival movement.
But the Estonian Communist Party’s top three leaders won endorsement by more than 90% of the voters--with the front’s active backing.
In the Ukraine, five local party first secretaries, including those of the principal cities of Kiev and Lvov, failed to win election even though they were unopposed because of a widespread movement by Ukrainian nationalists to vote against party officials.
Thousands of ballots marked “boycott” were received, particularly in Lvov, where 36,000 ballots were declared invalid. Elections will have to be run again in two of Lvov’s three constituencies.
“We declared these elections anti-democratic,” Orest Sheika of the Ukrainian nationalist Lion Society said, “and it appears that the people agree with us.”
There were similar defeats for party officials in districts across the country, according to reports by Tass. In the Siberian city of Tomsk, for example, the regional first secretary was defeated, although he was unopposed, when a majority of voters scratched out his name in an apparent protest over local living conditions.
The mood was also clear in lesser contests where voters rejected veteran party officials to elect people they believed would represent them and pursue faster change.
In Moscow, for example, voters chose as deputies Professor Oleg T. Bogomolev, one of the most outspoken reformers among Soviet political scientists and Ilya Zaslavsky, leader of a self-help movement for the disabled.
In another Moscow district, historian Roy A. Medvedev, who was under effective house arrest for years, topped the poll in a multi-candidate race and will take part in a runoff election in two weeks.