Mikhail Gorbachev won election as president Thursday without opposition, took the oath of office and vowed to use his strengthened powers to defeat the bureaucrats blocking his reform drive.
In the results of the secret balloting late Wednesday at the Congress of People's Deputies, 1,329 lawmakers voted for Gorbachev and 495 voted against him.Gorbachev removed his glasses, stood up from his presiding chair, bowed slightly and clasped his hands before him as legislators gave the president a brief standing ovation after the results were announced at the opening of the Congress's morning session.
Gorbachev, 59, then descended to a small table, placed his right hand on a red bound copy of the Soviet Constitution and swore himself in as president in a short formal ceremony.
"I solemnly swear to faithfully serve the peoples of our nations, to strictly observe the Soviet Constitution, to guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens and to conscientiously fulfill the high responsibilities placed in me as president of the Soviet Union," Gorbachev said.
In his address after taking the oath of office, Gorbachev said there was no danger of him exploiting his broadened authority to usurp power and promised to use the new presidency to radicalize his perestroika drive for economic and political renewal.
"Our country is going through a difficult time, but if we act together we will overcome these difficulties," Gorbachev said.
Emphasizing the strong point of his five-year tenure, Gorbachev said his foreign policy has been tested "on the touchstone of realism and common sense."
"This policy has helped the Soviet Union take its proper place in the international community," he said.
Breakdown of election results
The election results showed that more than one-quarter of deputies who participated in the balloting had voted against Gorbachev even though he ran unopposed.
Though he was supported by 70.8 percent of all participating deputies, Gorbachev had to get more than half the votes of the entire 2,250-seat Congress - and his tally of 59.2 percent was unexpectedly low for a contest in which he was the sole candidate.
In addition to the 495 lawmakers who crossed out the "for" box on the simple pink ballot and left the "against" box unmarked as their vote of direct opposition, another 122 legislators of the 2,000 who received ballots simply did not return them in what may have been a silent protest.
With 246 deputies absent, four seats vacant and 54 ballots deemed invalid, Gorbachev could not claim active support from 921 deputies in the full Congress.
Gorbachev noted he had heard the sharp criticism some lawmakers directed at him during the nominating session Wednesday evening, but he blamed "ossified consciousness" for his program's failure to bring more tangible benefits.
"There are no grounds for panic," Gorbachev said.
The new post, created at the extraordinary session of Congress convened by Gorbachev, gives him the sweeping powers he said were necessary to save his reform program and consolidate the vast country in the face of disintegrating forces.
Since taking office five years ago, Gorbachev has repeatedly shaken up the Soviet political system and improved personal liberties, but the country is beset by worsening ethnic strife and economic paralysis.
Strong independence movements and bloody clashes between ethnic groups also threaten the union. Lithuania declared independence on Sunday, and Estonia, Latvia and Georgia have all moved in that direction.
Gorbachev has been pressed for more radical solutions and this year has led the Communist Party to renounce its lock on political power and accept some forms of private property.
Conservative Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, though widely viewed as a foe of Gorbachev, hailed his election.
The Vatican and the Soviet Union have decided to establish permanent diplomatic contacts just short of full diplomatic relations, the Vatican announced Thursday.
It announced the Holy See - in effect Pope John Paul II - and the Soviet government - in effect President Mikhail Gorbachev - will exchange official representatives of ambassador rank "at a personal level."
"This does not mean full diplomatic relations," chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls told reporters, "but it is an exchange of official representatives at a personal level."