In the Soviet Union, every candidate for the parliament is a front-runner
For a man in the heat of an election campaign, Valery Saikin looks decidedly relaxed. He has the distinctive poise and self-assuredness of a front-runner as he fields questions from the press and makes a few promises about what he'll do once he takes office.Skip to next paragraph
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Such self-confidence is somewhat understandable, since he is the only candidate in the race and his election is virtually guaranteed. What's more, he won't have any campaign debts - the government pays for those.
The fact that he is a known communist won't hurt him in the least. After all, the Communist Party is the only legal political party in his country. And if the recent historical pattern is followed, Saikin will probably get a voter turnout around 99.9 percent on Sunday.
Those in the middle of the American election campaign - the candidates with numbed hands and the voters with numbed eardrums - might not recognize it, but the USSR is also in the midst of a campaign. The contrast with the one in America couldn't be more drastic.
Saikin, head of the Zil automotive enterprise here - which makes, among other products, the limousines that whisk Communist Party power brokers through traffic - is one of some 1,500 people ''running'' for a seat in the Supreme Soviet, nominally this country's parliament.
The word ''running'' is put in quotation marks because there is, in fact, no contest. The results are known before the voters go to the polls. And the word ''nominally'' is used because, although officially the highest legislative authority in the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet does little more than give unanimous and unwavering approval to decisions made by the Communist Party leadership.
Despite this, Soviet officials bristle at the suggestion that their elections are inferior to those in Western democracies.
On the contrary, says one official, ''We believe this system is more logical.''
''We think the possibility of making a wrong choice is reduced because we make the choice before the election,'' he says.
Primaries and caucuses are unfamiliar to the average Russian. A bit of background is clearly in order.
Once every five years, the Soviet Union holds nationwide elections for the Supreme Soviet. There are 1,500 seats in this bicameral legislature, 750 each in the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. Each representative is called a ''deputy.''
Deputies in the Soviet of Nationalities are chosen to represent the diverse republics and other governmental units that make up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus, when the Supreme Soviet convenes in Moscow's Palace of Congresses, Armenians, living near Greece, are mingling with Yakuts from eastern Siberia. This country, after all, covers one-sixth of the world's land area.
The other half of the legislature - the Soviet of the Union - is composed of representatives from single-member districts, each containing about 360,000 persons. It is for this body that Saikin is running. When he is elected, he says , he would like to devote some of his energies to studying transport problems - a seemingly appropriate task for a man who heads more than a dozen factories that turn out trucks as well as passenger cars.