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Soviet legislators back a stronger presidency

MOSCOW - Leaders of the Soviet legislature voted on Monday to convene an extraordinary session "in the nearest future" to expand the powers of the Soviet presidency, a post now held by Mikhail Gorbachev. The idea of endowing the president with new emergency powers was proposed last week by Gorbachev and endorsed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party amid claims that the current system was too slow in dealing with outbreaks of ethnic violence and economic crises.

The official Soviet news agency Tass said on Monday night that the 41-member Presidium, or executive committee, of the legislature had met on Monday with Gorbachev presiding and voted unanimously to press quickly for constitutional changes to create "a democratic presidential power."

A special session of the full 2,250-member Congress of People's Deputies would also have the authority to abolish the Communist Party's constitutional monopoly on political power and open the way to a multiparty system, steps endorsed in the new party platform adopted last week.

The party platform, which Tass published Monday night for the first time, did not specify what new powers should be given to the president, but the wording suggested that it should be sweeping.

The platform declared: "A president is needed to maintain the country's stable development, to speed up perestroika, to guarantee its irreversibility, to insure the normal and effective functioning of all state and public institutions in the process of democratization, to insure law and citizens' security, to protect the Soviet Union's interests, and to represent our state in the international arena."

The idea of creating a stronger chief executive appears to have widespread support here, but critics say that Gorbachev should not be given the new post without facing a direct, competitive nationwide election.

The party platform published on Monday night is a draft to be presented at a nationwide Communist Party congress in the summer.

It is clearly a compromise document, bowing simultaneously to Gorbachev's program and to familiar basics of Communist doctrine, leaving individual Communists broad leeway for interpretation.

Soviet legislators seeking the guidance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on the issue of whether to allow private property will not find those words in the text, but they will find this: "The (party) believes that the existence of labor-individual property, including ownership of the means of production, does not contradict the modern stage in the country's economic development."

An orthodox economist would conclude that individual farmers could own their own tractors, but not entire farms. But "ownership of the means of production" might be interpreted to mean private farms and factories.

The draft platform calls for elections to become "an honest competition" open to all "public organizations and movements."

The platform promises to submit an amendment to Article 6 of the constitution, which establishes the party as "the leading and guiding force" in Soviet society.

The proposal to create a strong presidential government has arisen repeatedly in the press, sponsored in some cases by writers with close ties to the party leadership.

Although Gorbachev is already head of state, chairman of the legislature, and leader of the Defense Council, advocates of a new system say he lacks the flexibility to take rapid executive action, like sending troops to trouble spots or imposing emergency economic measures.

Creation of a presidential government would mean a major overhaul of the parliamentary system enacted less than a year ago.