Independent groups across the country are preparing to field candidates in next year's elections for a revamped Soviet parliament. Contacted by phone this week, representatives of non-formal political groups in Moscow, Leningrad, the Baltic republic of Estonia, and the major industrial city of Sverdlovsk all said this week that they hoped to have candidates running in April 1989, when elections are due to be held for a new national parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies. A well-known private businessman has also said recently that he and other cooperative organizers would also try to run for elections.
If the groups do indeed field slates, this will probably be the first time for 70 years that organized bodies independent of the Communist Party have contested elections. The elections are part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's effort to increase participation in the political process.
The non-formal organizations planning to contest the elections are mostly groups of young professionals, students, or workers. They express distrust of official Communist Party structures and strong support for Mr. Gorbachev's reforms. Most are not members of the Communist Party, but stress that they do not see themselves as alternative political parties.
The challenge from independents will probably be especially strong in Estonia, where a non-formal umbrella group, the Popular Front is said by its leaders to have already attracted from 45,000 to 50,000 members. The Estonian front has drawn in official organizations such as the Republican Writers' Union. And, unlike non-formal groups in many other parts of the country, it is viewed with apparent sympathy by senior Communist Party officials in the republic. 2 An official of the Estonian front, Maryu Lauristin, said in a telephone interview yesterday that a main thrust of front activity in coming months would be to work for new electoral legislation guaranteeing the group's right to present candidates next year. Ms. Lauristin said the front now has about 1,000 chapters and is ``growing daily.''
The extent of political agitation in Estonia is illustrated by some of the proposals brought to Moscow by the republic's delegation to last week's party conference. The Estonians asked for virtual economic independence from Moscow. They also suggested that individual republics be allowed to have their own representation in international organizations, neighboring countries, and states with a ``significant population'' originally coming from the republic in question.
A front has also been organized in another Baltic republic, Lithuania. (Ms. Lauristin noted that Lithuanian activists addressed a large popular front in the Estonian capital of Tallinn last month). Meanwhile an activist in Leningrad, Viktor Monakhov, said by phone Tuesday that non-formal groups there were also planning a broad-based front along Estonian lines. If the front were organized by next April, Mr. Monakhov said, it would probably put forward candidates. If not, he envisaged individual groups doing so.
A smaller version of the front was organized in Moscow last month, and claims several hundred members. Its relations with the authorities have been mixed. For several weeks in succession they were allowed to organize public meetings in central Moscow. Now police break up the demonstrations.
The new electoral system was outlined in one of the resolution of the 19th Communist Party Conference, published in the Soviet press Tuesday. The terms of the resolution, however, have to be turned into legislation sometime in the fall. Under the timetable announced so far, about 2,250 deputies to a new nationwide parliament will be elected next April. Elections for regional and local soviets would follow in the fall of 1989.
The resolution stipulates multi-candidate elections for all levels of representative assemblies or soviets. The new soviets theoretically will be given broad policymaking powers. With the exception of chairman, officials of the local Communist Party committee and the executive branch of government will be excluded from the new soviets.
The resolution calls for an ``unlimited'' process of nominating candidates for local and national soviets in each constituency. It also says that the new national parliament, the Congress of People's deputies, should be supplemented by representatives of ``mass organizations'' - including the official communist youth, cooperatives, and community organizations - elected by each organization's congress.
Activists from the non-formal groups say they are now waiting to see whether new electoral laws faithfully reflect the conference resolution - and whether they will indeed be recognized as legitimate community organizations.