Button-pushing: A toxic habit Ukraine’s MPs carry on despite the Revolution | #UAreforms

Ukrainian MPs vote for themselves and their colleagues in Ukraine's Parliament. Photo: UKRINFORM

Ukrainian MPs vote for themselves and their colleagues in Ukraine's Parliament. Photo: UKRINFORM 

2016/05/26 • Analysis & Opinion, Ukraine

Button-pushing, or non-personal voting, is a die-hard undemocratic tradition of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada which has been carefully observed before, during, after, and despite the Revolution of Dignity.

Ukrainian activists from the Reanimation Package of Reforms are calling on the country’s Parliament to support a bill that would do away with a shameful Ukrainian 23-year old legacy of MPs voting for/instead of their colleagues. This blatant violation of the Ukrainian Constitution allows adopting crucial legislature that dramatically affects the Ukrainian people without the necessary attendance quorum.

The voting system in Ukraine’s parliament requires that MPs vote with their personal cards, but they manage to share them around when they are not present in Parliament. Legislature punishing this shameful habit is the only way to stop it, but its full adoption has been stalled for more than a year.

Infographics by Chesno.org

Infographics by Chesno.org

Button-pushing, when Ukrainian MPs press voting buttons of absent MPs either with or without their consent, is one of the most die-hard undemocratic traditions of Ukraine’s parliament. With its help, Ukrainian MPs have managed to “approve” some of the most contentious and disputed pieces of legislature that suited oligarchic interests with approval votes far below the required 226. Examples include the “language laws” of 2012, for which 172 MPs voted for in persona out of the 234 officially announced, the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine of 2012 (adopted by 50 MPs who were physically present in the hall during night time, instead of 226). Non-personal voting was taken to the extreme in Yanukovych’s time during the Euromaidan revolution, when on 16 January 2014 the parliament “passed” the draconian Dictatorship laws criminalizing peaceful protest with a show of hands:

One might suppose that this tradition would leave Ukraine together with Yanukovych, who was ousted during the Euromaidan revolution in February 2014. However, even after the revolution, this non-personal, dodgy way of voting remains a common practice. For instance, button-pushing took place during voting the State Budget 2016. The bill sparked intense discussions then, and was adopted at 4 AM on 25 December.

Vasyl Gulyayev from the opposition party Vidrodzhennya pushes buttons for himself and two colleagues.

Another important voting with button-pushing happened just recently, when Verkhovna Rada was deciding on the next Ukraine’s prime minister. Volodymyr Groysman was appointed after some members of parliament violated the Constitution by non-personal voting.

Viktor Bondar and Oleksandr Presman from Vidrodzhennya caught on “button-pushing” on 14 April 2016

Even though it may look like button-pushing is a domain of Yanukovych-led ex-Party of Regions members who have now disseminated into opposition groups, the second biggest button-pushing party is Petro Poroshenko’s Solidarnist.

Activists from Chesno organization have documented cases of non-personal voting in the parliament and made a ranking. After opposition Vidrodzhennya and presidential Solidarnist go former Prime Minister’s Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, then opposition party Volya Narodu and Opposition Bloc, and finally Oleh Lyashko Radical Party. Only two factions haven’t been caught cheating while voting: Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and Samopomich led by Lviv mayor Andrii Sadovyi.

Button_Pushing_Ukraine_Chesno

For example, Iryna Lutsenko from Poroshenko’s faction has been called a “vote-pusher” of the year 2015. The wife of Ukraine’s new Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko was caught voting for herself and three of her colleagues at the same time in December 2015.

As activists summarize, the main excuses for button-pushing are execution of the fraction’s and/or head’s decision and lack of quorum (which uncovers another serious problem of Ukraine’s parliament, systemic absence of the law-makers).

One of those excuses was used by Tetiana Chornovol from presidential party. A former investigative journalist and Maidan activist brutally beaten in winter 2014 got caught voting the bill regarding electromobiles.

“I did button-pushing yesterday for the bill about electromobiles. I think this is an important law and it’s in the interests of the state. Some very important bills don’t pass just because there is not enough votes. The voting gets rescheduled for Friday so that  there will be not enough votes,” she explained to 112 channel emphasizing that non-personal voting is not the biggest issue in Ukraine and doesn’t deserve that much attention.

Such position of the former activist isn’t acceptable for the current ones. In April 2016, Chesno activists have started a signature petition in order to call for the prompt adoption of the bill #1895 which is supposed to introduce responsibility for non-personal voting. It will include: banning the MP from taking part in 10 plenary sessions of the parliament; holding executive positions in parliamentary committees; membership of the parliamentary delegations; making publicly funded mission trips, as well as depriving from salary for the same term.

Bill #1895 was supported in June, 2015 with 258 votes of MPs. Nevertheless, its full adoption has been blocked for nearly a year. As of 17 May, the activists managed to receive 164 signatures of MPs in support of considering the bill in the second reading.

Moreover, Andriy Parubiy, Verkhovna Rada speaker, as well as Pat Cox, Head of European Parliament’s Needs Assessment Mission to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, President of the European Parliament in 2002-2004, have expressed their willingness to support the adoption of the bill, as reported by the pro-reform activist coalition Reanimation Package of Reforms.

The activists call for support of the bill #1895 by disseminating the information and are demanding MPs to put the bill #1895 on the agenda and vote for it in the second reading.

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • Nowhere Girl

    The further to the east, it seems, the more common “knopkodavstvo” (I think English “button pushing” sounds very colorless) is… It is notorious in Russia, quite unheard of in modern Western Europe and in Poland it recently caused a scandal when a member of Kukiz’s faction was caught voting for herself and someone else. The “donor” was thrown out of the faction and the “recipient” resigned himself.
    But it’s very bad when people such as Chornovil, who were supposed to bring new values into the Rada, start behaving like Yanuk’s buddies… The major democratic parties should start really fighting this practice. If MPs risked losing their seats for “knopkodavstvo”, perhaps they would think twice.

  • Tony

    In addition to penalties against this practice, how about some technological solutions ? Like say a finger print scanner and password and keycard and make it so that the keycard needs to be reinserted after every vote. The idea is to make it time consuming and troublesome. That way it wont be easy to incognito vote for 3 people without getting spotted.
    One can even change the technical requirements every couple years to prevent adaptation.