Some Soviets worry about too much power at top. Reliance on one man is dangerous, reformers say
Constitutional proposals under discussion in the Soviet Union give Mikhail Gorbachev too much power, prominent Soviet intellectuals warned yesterday. The amendments, which will make Mr. Gorbachev head of government with direct legislative powers much greater than he enjoys now, contain ``an immensely dangerous time bomb,'' academician Andrei Sakharov told Soviet and American scholars. Mr. Sakharov's views were endorsed by other leading academics.
``As in the past we are relying on one man,'' Sakharov said. ``This is exceptionally dangerous, both for both perestroika as a whole, and for Gorbachev personally.''
The proposed changes give a leader ``absolute authority,'' he said. ``Today it will be Gorbachev [in power], tomorrow it can be anyone.'' The danger always exists that Gorbachev might be pressured by conservative forces into backing off reform or he might simply change his position on perestroika (restructuring), Sakharov warned. Sakharov called for the constitutional amendments to be discussed over a period of three months, not one. And the most important and contentious proposals should be approved by a nationwide referendum.
Another intellectual, Leonid Batkin, proposed that Gorbachev should consider running for election as president against several other candidates. Under current proposals he will be elected indirectly, by members of the new Congress of Deputies.
The electoral law and constitutional amendment, published on Oct. 22, are due to be discussed by an extraordinary meeting of the country's parliament, the Supreme Soviet, at the end of November.
Tuesday's comments underline a fear of many radically-minded intellectuals that the new reforms are tending not toward broad-based democracy but toward what one of them, economist Pavel Bunich, called the replacement of ``absolute monarchy by an enlightened'' one.
Reformers inside the Communist Party feel the urgent need to lessen the party's monopoly on political power. The reason, one senior official said recently, is the fear that many regional party leaders as well as rank-and-file members are, at best, tepid toward radical reform.
Some party reformers see themselves waging a delicate guerrilla struggle against the party machine.
Several officials, referring back to last summer's Communist Party conference, have independently resorted to the same sporting analogy. Gorbachev's success in gaining endorsement for the political changes now under discussion, they say, was ``a win away from home.''
Radical intellectuals - who support reform but stand at the edge of the political process - fear the present constitutional changes carry within them the seeds of disaster.
Under the changes, the Supreme Soviet, currently a rubber-stamp body which meets twice a year, will be changed into a two-tier parliament. A 2,250-member Congress of People's Deputies will meet once a year. They will elect 442 members of a standing parliament, also to be known as the Supreme Soviet. The congress will also elect the president of the Supreme Soviet - a role assumed by Gorbachev a month ago. The president will have the major say in domestic, foreign, and defense policy.
The president's powers will be much greater than those enjoyed by the current president. And the main problem with the system as proposed, Sakharov said, was that it is based on a one-party system. The new mass organizations in the Baltic states, he said, would not be able to participate in the elections.
(The draft proposals specify that only mass organizations with a nationwide structure will be eligible for a part of the 75 deputies' seats earmarked for mass organizations. Some groups, such as the representatives of the cooperatives, the country's budding private sector, hope to have a nationwide organization in time for next spring's elections. Other mass organizations plan to influence the choice of individual candidates in their communities).
Sakharov also voiced the fear that, in the absence of clear criteria for electing members of the standing parliament, deputies will end up following the ``suggestions, direct or indirect'' of the party apparatus. And he noted that Gorbachev or his successor will have the power to legislate between Supreme Soviet sessions - that is for four to six months a year.
Critics also complained about the limitations placed upon glasnost (openness) once it enters the realm of high politics. Mr. Batkin focused on the military and the security police, the KGB.
Under present circumstances it was hard to determine how the officer classes viewed reform, Batkin commented. And the KGB occupies ``a whole block in the heart of Moscow,'' he remarked. ``I have heard nothing about cuts in that organization. What are they working on [inside the country]? How do they feel [about change]?''
``And what is their mission?'' added Sakharov.