The Soviet Union published Friday a draft of major changes in its constitution that promise a radical reordering of the country's political system.
The political reforms, which were drafted by the Communist Party Central Committee, are in line with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's proposals in June to transfer much of the day-to-day governance of the country from the party to a permanent legislature and local bodies known as soviets.The changes to the Soviet Constitution would be the first in 11 years.
A report carried Friday by the official news agency Tass said the draft will be published in Saturday's daily newspapers and will require a full, "national discussion" before the changes are approved by the Supreme Soviet next month.
The most significant changes include the revamping of the 1,500-member Supreme Soviet, which for decades has been a rubber-stamp body, into a far more powerful legislature. Soviet sources said that the constitutional changes will be passed in time to allow for nationwide legislative elections in the spring.
A new Congress of People's Deputies, which will have 2,250 members, will elect a president and a smaller, 450-person, bicameral parliament to be called the Supreme Soviet. The Congress of People's Deputies will meet once a year, while the new Supreme Soviet will be a full-time legislature.
The draft suggests that there be a 20 percent turnover in the Supreme Soviet every year.
The constitution will also give far greater power to the presidency, a position acquired last month by Gorbachev in a sweeping shakeup of the Kremlin leadership. Analysts here said that Gorbachev will surely retain the presidency, which he took over following the retirement of Andrei Gromyko.
The draft says that "the president is head of state and represents the USSR inside the country and abroad." He will also head the powerful Defense Council and name a prime minister. The draft says that the president is limited to two five-year terms.
The Soviet press also reported Friday that major changes will be made in the country's penal system.
In a lengthy report this week, the newspaper Literaturnaya Rossiya said that the government is trying to cut the labor camp population in half, adding that 600,000 convicts - or 30 percent of the prison population - have been released since 1986. The paper also said that 200 forced-labor camps have been shut down in the past two years.
The article said that lengthy prison terms have proven a poor deterrent to crime, and that the prisons themselves have proved to be "universities" for criminals. The Soviet press has carried a number of critical reports on conditions in Soviet prisons, including an expose of one camp that was denounced as a "throwback" to the era of dictator Joseph Stalin.