MOSCOW, MAY 24 -- Radical Soviet legislators called today for a vote of no confidence in the government, declaring that the Kremlin's latest economic-reform package would fail to extricate the country from a deepening economic crisis.
Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, in a two-hour televised address to the Soviet legislature, said citizens would receive full compensation for up to 70 percent of the huge retail price increases foreseen under the government's plans, but he said there would be no compensation for increases on such luxury items as jewelry, liquor, tobacco and food delicacies.
The no-confidence motion was announced by Gennadi Filshin, a representative of the Inter-Regional Group, a fledgling political opposition. He described the government plan as a "camouflaged attempt to double state retail prices while making no progress toward a market."
"The government has lost control over the economic situation and is unable to pull the nation out of the worsening crisis," said Filshin, who indicated that radical-reformists in the legislature will urge Soviet citizens to vote against the government's proposals in an unprecedented nationwide referendum on the issue.
Ryzhkov told reporters during a break in the debate that a referendum or some other form of public consultation could be held within a few months of passage of enabling legislation. His comments suggested that the referendum is unlikely to be held before fall. The plan's first stage, a gradual tripling of bread prices, is scheduled to begin July 1, and reports circulated today of panic buying of flour, cereals and noodles in Moscow and Leningrad. "People are going crazy. There is no flour left," a Soviet journalist in Moscow told the Reuter news agency.
There seems little chance of the government's being defeated in the Supreme Soviet, the standing national legislature, where it commands a solid majority of members. A straw poll conducted by the Soviet news agency Interfax indicated that up to 200 legislators could back the no-confidence motion demanded by the Inter-Regional Group, well short of half the 542 members.
Vigorous opposition by the radicals could, however, jeopardize the government's chances of winning a public referendum on the transition to a "planned market economy." Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov said Wednesday that the government should resign if its plan is voted down by the electorate.
After one legislator suggested today that a referendum on rising prices is bound to be defeated, Ryzhkov acknowledged to reporters that the Soviet people would find it "very difficult to accept the proposal." But, he continued, "The government's task is to explain, to convince people this is the road we have to take."
Even if Ryzhkov and his government were obliged to step down, Gorbachev still could legally complete the five-year presidential term to which he was elected by the Congress of People's Deputies in March. His position as general secretary of the Communist Party also would be unaffected.
Ryzhkov told the Supreme Soviet that the system of compulsory state orders for industry would remain in force during the transition stage to a market economy but that companies would be obliged to hand over 40 percent of their production to the state, compared to 90 or even 100 percent in some cases today.
As the former director of one of the Soviet Union's largest machine factories, Ural-Mash, Ryzhkov is widely viewed as a less than enthusiastic advocate of free-market mechanisms. He has repeatedly warned that the transition to a free market can take place only under controlled conditions to prevent a violent public backlash and avoid unnecessary disruptions to the economy.
In his speech today, Ryzhkov said that centralized distribution of resources in short supply could not be "fully abandoned" during the initial stage of reform between 1991 and 1992. Since shortages now extend to every sector of the economy, this suggests that the government is determined to retain tight control over the distribution system for the foreseeable future.
The cautious nature of the government's reform package has dismayed opposition legislators, who argue that the measures announced so far are unlikely to stabilize the Soviet economy. The current Soviet budget deficit is between 10 and 11 percent of the gross national product, three times higher proportionately than the U.S. deficit.
Radical economist Nikolai Zhuravlev said the government had failed totally to take the necessary amount of money out of circulation to balance the consumer market. Another member of the Inter-Regional Group, Sergei Belozertsev, said workers are being asked to pay for the government's mistakes.