Brezhnev died in November 1982. His successor as state president and Communist party general secretary, Yuri V. Andropov, succumbed to prolonged illness in February 1984. Andropov's successor, Konstantin Chernenko, who died after only 13 months in office, was followed in March 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Glasnost' and Perestroika
After consolidating his power by changing the Politburo membership, Gorbachev launched a campaign aimed at reforming Soviet society. His agenda called for perestroika (Russian, "restructuring") of the nation's economy and glasnost (Russian, "openness") in political and cultural affairs. At a conference of the Communist party held in late June 1988, Gorbachev proposed a series of constitutional reforms that would shift power from the party to popularly elected legislatures, reduce the party's role in local economic management, and greatly increase the powers of the presidency. Three months later, Andrey A. Gromyko retired as state president (a post he had held since 1985), and Gorbachev assumed the office. In March 1989, Soviet voters took part in their first nationwide competitive election since 1917, choosing the newly reconstituted Congress of People's Deputies: the congress convened in May to select the Supreme Soviet and to elect Gorbachev to a 5-year presidential term. Complicating the process of domestic economic reform were, in April 1986, a serious accident at the Chernobyl' nuclear power station, which caused significant environmental damage and revealed major deficiencies in the Soviet nuclear programme; and, in December 1988, an earthquake in Armenia that left more than 25,000 dead and at least 400,000 homeless.
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