SOVIET leader Mikhail Gorbachev has moved quickly to calm anxiety in Communist Party circles caused by last Sunday's remarkable elections. At a hastily convened meeting Wednesday, Mr. Gorbachev spoke for over an hour and a half to senior Soviet editors, commenting both on the election results and the need for quick and tangible changes in the country's economy.
Gorbachev's basic message, a participant said, seemed to be that the elections were a welcome and normal step in the process of democratization. Gorbachev's speech had not been published by press time, but according to a participant he emphasized that the election had been a vote of confidence in perestroika (restructuring).
Individual Communist Party officials, not the party as a whole, had been defeated in Sunday's election, he told news media representatives. The party should be grateful to electors for helping the leadership with its personnel policy, and for pointing out those senior officials who had failed to rally behind reform.
Although there has been speculation that many defeated officials will be asked to resign, Gorbachev did not mention any plans to recommend their dismissal. Unsuccessful officials should go back to work and reflect on how they had lost contact with the people, he reportedly said. But his comments left at least one listener doubting that most defeated candidates would ever play a major political role again.
The official news media have so far failed to publish complete electoral results. But a very partial count so far indicates that more than 50 senior party officials and local government leaders were defeated - some of them in unopposed elections. And a military journalist said Thursday that around half of the approximately 100 military candidates had failed to be elected.
Apparently referring to recent criticism of the party - and perhaps hinting at the growing interest in a multiparty system - Gorbachev reportedly reiterated the central role of the Communist Party in the reform program. Without the party's leadership, reform would degenerate into anarchy, he said.
Much of Gorbachev's talk was reportedly devoted to economic issues. He told the journalists that the leadership was determined to deal with inflation through cuts in the military and government spending. He also spoke of plans to cut the budget deficit - currently some $160 billion - to a ``minimum'' in the course of the year.
He also returned to the subject of agricultural reform. If the food situation is not improved, he said, there would be no perestroika.
The speed with which the meeting with editors was called indicated that Gorbachev was keen to offer his own interpretation of the first contested elections in Soviet history, before leaving for Ireland, Cuba, and Britain on Sunday.