Soviet Union Table of Contents
In theory, citizens selected the candidates for election to local soviets. In practice, at least before the June 1987 elections, these candidates had been selected by local CPSU, Komsomol, and trade union officials under the guidance of the district (raion) party organization. Elections took place after six weeks of campaigning, and the candidates, until 1987 always unopposed candidates, had usually received more than 99 percent of the vote.
Despite the party's historic control over local elections--from the nomination of candidates to their unopposed elections--the citizens used the elections to make public their concerns. They sometimes used the furnished paper ballots to write requests for particular public services. For example, the 1985 elections to an Omsk soviet included instructions to move the airfield farther from the city center, construct a new music center, and build parking facilities for invalids. Subsequently, the Omsk soviet took steps to provide these services, all of which had the approval of the relevant party authorities. Thus, citizen demands that were reconciled with the interests of the party apparatus have been met through election mandates.
In June 1987, under Moscow's guidance, multicandidate local elections took place experimentally in less than 5 percent of the districts. Presented with a paper ballot listing more candidates than positions, voters indicated their choices by crossing off enough names so that the number of candidates matched the number of positions. Although generally opposed by local administrators, who could no longer assume automatic election, this reform found strong support among the general public. In early 1989, steps to limit the power of official organizations over the nominating process also came under discussion.
Nevertheless, the outcome of efforts to democratize the local election process remained far from certain in 1989. On the one hand, public anger over the autocratic and sometimes arbitrary styles of local leaders, their perceived incompetence, and their inability to provide needed goods and services forced some reforms. On the other hand, opposition by government and party bureaucrats, combined with the lack of a political culture--that is, experience in self-government--obstructed and diluted reforms of the government's structure and functions, as advocated by Gorbachev in the late 1980s.
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Several general works on Soviet politics contain much useful information on the government. Among these works are Darrell P. Hammer's The USSR: The Politics of Oligarchy and Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod's How the Soviet Union Is Governed. Hough and Fainsod devote special attention to the relationship between the party and the government. Vadim Medish's The Soviet Union is a good reference work on the terminology of government. Other works contain more specialized information. Julian Towster's Political Power in the USSR provides material on the first three Soviet constitutions. Boris Toporin's The New Constitution of the USSR is widely viewed as one of the best English-language books available on the 1977 Constitution. Lev Tolkunov's How the Supreme Soviet Functions covers the legislature, as well as other organs of the central government, from a Soviet perspective. Everett M. Jacobs's Soviet Local Government and Politics is an invaluable source for this little-studied aspect of Soviet government. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of May 1989