MOSCOW -- Boris Yeltsin quit the Soviet Communist Party Thursday, spurning the organization that once humiliated him and upstaging Mikhail Gorbachev in a stunning announcement at the party congress.
The renegade politician told more than 4,500 shocked delegates at the 28th Communist Party Congress that he was turning in his party card to focus on his duties as president of the republic of Russia.
'As head of the highest legislative authority of the republic, I must submit to the will of the people and their authorized representatives,' Yeltsin said. 'Therefore, in accordance with the obligations I took on myself in the campaign period, I declare my exit from the Soviet Communist Party.'
Yeltsin's disclosure overshadowed the release of official election results showing that Vladimir Ivashko, Gorbachev's hand-picked choice, had been chosen the party's deputy general secretary in voting Wednesday evening.
Politburo hard-liner Yegor Ligachev, defeated by Ivashko in his bid for the No. 2 post, said of Yeltsin's decision to leave the party: 'For me that would be political suicide. For him it's a trifle ... a logical political conclusion.'
In a foreshadowing of the mass exodus that could follow the popular Yeltsin's exit, Leningrad Mayor Anatoli Sobchak and at least eight other delegates in the radical Democratic Platform bloc promptly announced plans to quit the party and form a separate political organization.
'None of our basic principles have been accepted at the Congress,' Vladimir Lysenko, one of the radical bloc's leaders, told Soviet television. 'The party remains the same: democratic centralism, communism as the final target, the territorial production principle.'
Yeltsin's announcement made good on his campaign pledge to suspend or terminate his party membership if chosen to head the giant Russian republic, the post he then gained May 29.
The triumph capped a comeback from the political disgrace he suffered in November 1987 when Gorbachev ousted him as Moscow party chief after he criticized the pace of reforms as being too slow.
Yeltsin said he had wanted to delay the announcement of his quitting the party until after the pivotal conclave, but was forced to disclose the decision Thursday because he had been nominated for a spot on the Central Committee.
The 59-year-old Siberian said he made his decision 'in view of my selection as chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation' and 'in view of our society's movement toward a multi-party system.'
Vladimir Bagin, a lawyer from Kirovo attending the conclave, said: 'Yeltsin's ahead of them all. I've always been an admirer of Yeltsin. I think he did the right thing. ... You can't be a member of the party and a head of government.'
Several of Gorbachev's top advisers have told the Communist gathering they will leave the party's ruling Politburo to focus on their government duties. But Gorbachev plans to continue his dual roles as Soviet president and party leader following his re-election Tuesday as general secretary.
'The question of power has not been solved at this Congress,' Lysenko said. 'The separation of posts, the depoliticalization of the KGB, army and Interior Ministry, the transfer of (party) property to the people, the elimination of party committees at the work place -- nothing of this sort has been accepted here.'
Ivashko, the former Ukrainian party chief, overwhelmingly defeated Ligachev in the voting Wednesday evening for deputy general secretary of the Soviet party, the official results showed. Ivashko had 3,109 votes, while Ligachev received only 776 votes and a third candidate, Anatoly Dudarev, got 150.
The Congress also handed Gorbachev another victory, approving without changes the key provisions of new party rules that permit limited factional activity.
'I'm just for moving forward,' Ivashkov said after the outcome was announced. 'I'm for moving forward fast. I see no way back. We have reached the point of no return.'
Ligachev conceded defeat and called Ivashko 'a man I deeply respect.' He also indicated he would not work to retain his Politburo seat, saying: 'There is no such need. I have done everything that is needed.'
Ligachev's candidacy was seen as a direct challenge to Gorbachev's authority by the arch conservative who has opposed many of the Soviet leader's reforms.
Besides his defeat for the deputy party leader's job, Ligachev also was left off an official party organization list of candidates for the Central Committee, and it is unlikely he will retain his seat on the Politburo.
But officials said 75 at-large candidates for the Central Committee were yet to be nominated, meaning Ligachev still could be elected to the body.
The radical Leningrad mayor Sobchak, also a member of the Soviet Parliament, called Ivashko's election 'a step forward. ... If Ligachev had won then I simply wouldn't be in this building right now.'
Ivashko, the former party leader in the Ukraine, is expected to be a trusted deputy to take on the burden of directly managing party affairs so that Gorbachev can concentrate on his duties as Soviet president.
'The delegates had confidence in me,' Ivashko said. 'That is the only thing I can be congratulated for. I must now live up to this trust.'
Ivashko, a year younger than the 59-year-old Gorbachev, stepped out of the shadows of the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership last September when he supplanted Vladimir Shcherbitsky, who had ruled the Ukraine for 17 years after being appointed by late Soviet leader Leonid