MOSCOW, June 3, 1988 (UPI) - The elections of the most prominent advocates of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms to a special Communist Party Conference had to be rammed through Friday after meeting heavy conservative opposition.
The Moscow City Party Committee elected 319 delegates to the Special Party Conference, which begins June 28 and will discuss radical reforms such as limiting party officials to two consecutive five-year terms.
Speaking at the Moscow session Friday, Gorbachev predicted the conference ''will become an important milestone in the life of the party and the country.''
Because the conference will consider such revolutionary measures as ending lifetime tenures of officials, a preponderance of reformists must be among the 5,000 delegates for Gorbachev to achieve his goals.
Failure to elect the most prominent reformers would have been a major defeat for Gorbachev.
But when the Moscow City Party assembled Friday to elect its 319 delegates to the conference, the most prominent reformists were not even up for consideration because they had been defeated at district levels, the official Tass news agency said.
Even Yuri Afanasyev, the nation's leading historian who has spearheaded the exposures of Josef Stalin's crimes, lost in the district primary.
The Moscow city leadership ''decided by majority vote to submit Afanasyev's candidacy'' and he was elected as a conference delegate, Tass said.
Virtual household names of ''perestroika,'' or restructuring, such as sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya, economists Nikolai Shmelyev and Leonid Abalkin and playwright Mikhail Shatrov, film director Elem Klimov, and Yegor Yakovlev, editor of the very flagship of ''glasnost'' or openness, the weekly Moscow News newspaper, also failed to win election in their districts.
The Moscow party again decided by ''majority vote'' to submit their candidacies, guaranteeing their elections to the June conference, Tass said.
But the conservative opposition was so strong that the powerful Moscow committee could not elect liberal economist Gavril Popov, who has advocated unemployment rather than have the government prop up bankrupt enterprises.
''Taking into account public opinion with regard to the nomination of Gavril Popov,'' his candidacy was not put forward, Tass said.
The battle confirmed the strong conservative opposition to the reformers who are perceived as the dismantlers of the centrally planned economy, in which there are no layoffs and no fears of bankruptcies of state enterprises despite their inefficient production.
Gorbachev, however, has said without changes the Soviet Union could become a Third World nation with nuclear weapons.
He vowed May 8 to fight for the elections of his supporters, saying ''there can be no more quotas'' of handpicked factory workers. ''The principle directive ... is to elect active supporters of perestroika.''