Soviet citizens may see some Western-style campaigning for the first time next spring under a draft law that would permit competing candidates, television time and a campaign staff.
The law says candidates for the 2,250 seats in the new Congress of People's Deputies will be given time off from work to campaign, free public transportation within their district, and access to the state-run media.They also may ask 10 friends to help them campaign.
But it seems competing political parties are still out of bounds and unaffiliated candidates will be restricted in what they can advocate, since the Constitution defines the Soviet Union as a socialist nation led by the Communist Party.
"The program of the candidate must not contradict the Constitution or Soviet law," says the draft election law published in weekend newspapers.
The election proposal is part of an overhaul of the government proposed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev at the party conference in June. The lengthy draft laws are to be debated in the media before the current Supreme Soviet legislature considers them in November.
Traditionally, Soviet elections have had only one candidate for each position, so campaigning was limited to a biography and a few nights to meet the candidate. Election officials obtained 99 percent turnouts by persuading busy citizens to have a relative vote on their behalf.
Fledgling opposition groups like the Democratic Union may be restricted by a requirement that candidates for territorial districts be nominated by workers' groups of at least 500 people.
But the draft law offers a chance to such large groups as nationalistic organizations in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that have won official approval by advocating not just cultural freedom but also economic reforms akin to those of Gorbachev.
The draft law also gives candidates complete immunity from arrest and prosecution without approval of the Central Election Commission.