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Gorbachev Keeps Lid On Party Congress

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AS the tumultuous Congress of the Soviet Communist Party draws to a close, Mikhail Gorbachev can take a slight breath. The resounding vote for Mr. Gorbachev's candidate for deputy party leader, Ukrainian Vladimir Ivashko, over the standard-bearer of the conservative right, Yegor Ligachev, was a moment of triumph.

``It's a vote for perestroika [restructuring],'' Presidential spokesman Arkady Maslennikov told reporters outside the Palace of Congresses yesterday. ``The theory that conservatives would impose their will on the party has proven to be incorrect.''

The forceful Soviet leader will emerge from the two-week long meeting, with his power intact. His own leadership, along with that of his hand-picked deputies, won endorsement from the assembled members of the Communist machine. He has restructured the party to reflect a new, federative principle of organization. And the party, though battered by ideological warfare, remains largely, though perhaps nominally, intact.

What all this adds up to though is that Gorbachev has merely won himself some time, a matter of months only, to revive stalled reforms.

By the beginning of September, the government must present a new plan for transformation of the Soviet economy into a market-based system. Prospects for more Western aid rest on the success of that effort.

The government also faces new nationalist challenges from Georgia and elsewhere in the Caucasus region, as it holds tough negotiations with the independence-minded Baltic states. The spread of separatist sentiments, is part of a broader shift of power out of the traditional center in Moscow.

Gorbachev demonstrated at the Congress that he has no equal when it comes to outmaneuvering his opponents. He brought most of the left to his side in an alliance against those who attacked reform and forced the right to abandon their most extreme voices, particularly Mr. Ligachev, in the name of unity.

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