On March 26, 1989, elections for the Congress of People’s Deputes were held in the Soviet Union, the first free elections since the Bolshevik party came to power in 1917. Limited and flawed as they were, these elections still marked the rebirth of the electoral system in Russia after a break of 70 years, finally giving the Soviet people a chance to become a part of the country’ political life.
The candidate selection process was very complex. Candidates could not merely nominate themselves, but had to receive a nod from political parties and businesses they worked for to support their candidacy; while the next step was getting approval of the constituency-level electoral commissions. These procedures were undertaken to assure the candidate’s political loyalty.
The final list of the approved candidates numbered 5,074, with the members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) taking almost 85% of the spots. One-third of the seats (750) were reserved for the deputies, representing the officially recognized organizations, while the remaining two-thirds was left to be filled by elected members. The largest organizational quotas were taken by the CPSU, trade unions, collective farms, Komsomol (Communist Youth Union), Veterans' Organizations, retired workers, and the Committee of Soviet Women. The total number of deputes equaled 2250 members but, according to the law, the Congress wasn’t a permanent formation and only took place annually. The ruling body in charge of the country’s legislature was the Supreme Soviet of about 500 deputes.
Some political analysts are prone to compare these elections to a first adolescent love, often called pure and simple, when such notion as dirty political tricks was alien. For the first time in 70 years people could participate in elections to vote for someone they trusted and appreciated, instead of just being lured there with promises of an extra day off from work with no changes to be expected after the elections. The election committees did not report any gerrymandering or vote rigging: the vote count itself was something new and unusual. While such subjects as financial planning and legal support of the elections were yet to be developed.
The candidates, too, perceived the electorate as true supporters and tried to win them over solely with their agendas: candidates were given the right to promote their programs on TV, in leaflets, or at direct meetings with people. With no intricate promotion schemes at hand, the candidates relied solely on their point of view on the country’s future, unrealistic at times, but always sincere. These elections introduced a number of prominent figures who later stood out in the political battles for democracy in 1991 and in many ways formed the image of the new Russia, with Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president, being one of them.