Soviet Union Table of Contents
In 1989 the Congress of People's Deputies stood at the apex of the system of soviets and was the highest legislative organ in the country. Created by amendment to the Constitution in December 1988, the Congress of People's Deputies theoretically represented the united authority of the congresses and soviets in the republics. In addition to its broad duties, it created and monitored all other government bodies having the authority to issue decrees. In 1989 the Congress of People's Deputies, however, was largely a ceremonial forum meeting only a few days a year to ratify and debate party and government decisions and to elect from its own membership the Supreme Soviet to carry out legislative functions between sittings of the congress. Other responsibilities of the Congress of People's Deputies included changing the Constitution, adopting decisions concerning state borders and the federal structure, ratifying government plans, electing the chairman and first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and electing members of the Constitutional Oversight Committee.
In the elections that took place under the 1988 law on electing deputies to the Congress of People's Deputies, several candidates were allowed to run for the same office for the first time since 1917. Nevertheless, no party except the CPSU was allowed to field candidates, and a large bloc of seats was reserved for CPSU members and members of other officially sanctioned organizations. In the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian republics and to a far lesser degree in the Belorussian Republic, however, popular fronts, which were tantamount to political parties, fielded their own candidates. The regime maintained that these elections demonstrated that the Soviet people could freely choose their own government.
The Congress of People's Deputies that was elected in March through May 1989 consisted of 2,250 deputies--1,500 from the electoral districts and national-territorial electoral districts and 750 from officially sanctioned organizations, including the CPSU. In all, 5,074 individuals were registered as candidates. A main election was held in which 89.8 percent of the eligible voters, or 172.8 million people, participated. Following the main election, runoff elections were held in districts in which a candidate failed to obtain a majority of the votes cast in the main election. Runoff elections took place in 76 out of 1,500 electoral districts. Repeat elections were also held in 198 electoral districts where less than one-half of the eligible voters in the district voted. Official organizations also held elections in which 84.2 percent of the eligible voters, or 162 million people, participated. Five repeat elections were for organizations. Of the 2,250 deputies elected, 8.1 percent were newly elected to the legislature.
The CPSU has used several means to exercise control over the activities of the legislative system. Since 1964 the chairman of the Supreme Soviet's Presidium has been a member of the Politburo, and other members of the Presidium have sat on the party's Central Committee. In addition, since 1977 CPSU general secretaries have usually held the post of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, although Mikhail S. Gorbachev, at first, did not hold this post. Also, the party has had a large role in determining which of the elected deputies would serve as deputies in the Supreme Soviet. As part of their own nomenklatura authority, local party organizations have selected candidates to run in the elections. The commissions and committees, which had some power to oversee government policy, have accepted direction from the CPSU's Central Committee departments and their chairmen, and a large proportion of their memberships has consisted of CPSU members. In the Congress of People's Deputies elected in 1989, about 87 percent, or 1,957 deputies, were members or candidate members of the CPSU.
Data as of May 1989