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Zelenskyy’s MPs set new records in violating parliamentary rules

President Zelenskyi in the foreground of the Verkhovna Rada. Collage:
Zelenskyy’s MPs set new records in violating parliamentary rules
President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party has set new records in its violations of the parliamentary regulations in the Verkhovna Rada.

“You are de-facto canceling the right of any deputy to submit amendments. If you vote like this, there is no parliament anymore,” oppositional MP Iryna Gerashchenko (European Solidarity) criticized the rapid adoption of the impeachment law on 10 September.

Since the draft law passed two readings just one after another within one hour, MPs had no time to propose any amendments or even review the bill. With such gross violations of the regulations becoming a routine, the significance of the parliament becomes more and more questionable: the Verkhovna Rada adopts all presidential drafts almost immediately with the help of Servant of the People, which holds a single-party majority there.

Some analysts have claimed that thi weakness of Ukraine’s new parliament may be bad news for the country’s war with Russia.

Zelenskyy submitted an impeachment bill making impeachment all but impossible

The Ukrainian Constitition includes a description of the presidential impeachment procedure. Among other matters, the Fundamental Law prescribes to create a parliamentary commission for investigating the case and presenting facts to fellow parliamentarians so that the Rada could vote for or against the impeachment. However, the legislation didn’t describe the jurisdiction of such a commission and how it should be formed. To make the procedure of impeachment usable, a new law on the creation of the special parliamentary commission could be enough.

Such a law was already adopted on 6 June 2019 by the Verkhovna Rada of the previous convocation. Everything that Zelenskyy had to do in order to perform his pre-election promises regarding impeachment was to sign the adopted law. Instead, he decided to violate the Constitution, which stipulates that the president has 15 days to veto or sign the adopted law. When the 15 days pass, it is presumed that President automatically agrees on the law and is obliged to sign it. However, Zelenskyy simply ignored the adopted law, in that way deeply disregarding the parliament.

Finally, Volodymyr Zelenskyy submitted his alternative bill on impeachment, complying with his interests to make the procedure hardly possible. President’s bill states that impeachment is possible only if the president “commits high treason or another crime,” adds little clarity to the procedure vaguely described in the Constitution.

Nazar Zabolotnyi, a lawyer and analyst at Centre.Ua, argued that if the president wanted to make impeachment possible, he had not only to sign the law that the previous parliament had adopted but also to liberalize the procedure in the Constitution, widening preconditions for impeachment and lowering the number of required votes from 3/4 to 2/3 of the total number of MPs.

That had not happened: 338 votes (out of a total 450) are required to deprive the president of his seat. This is unrealistic for three reasons: first, 26 seats are vacant because of the occupation of Crimea and Donbas; second, Zelenskyy’s party holds a single-party majority with 254 MPs; third, with parliamentary immunity just recently lifted, any “unruly” MPs could be easily neutralized.

Rada adopted the bill without considering amendments in violation of parliamentary regulations

In the morning of 10 September, the reviewing of the draft law started and ended with its immediate adoption. Minority deputies from both Poroshenko’s European Solidarity and Tymoshenko’s Fatherland parties were going to propose amendments to the presidential bill to make the very procedure of impeachment possible. They asked for the floor to make their statements, but the Head of the Verkhovna Rada from Servant of the People party, Dmytro Razumkov, denied their requests.

After the bill passed the first reading, several MPs asked for five days to discuss it and submit proposals. However, Dmytro Razumkov ignored these requests too, in that way violating regulations of the Verkhovna Rada just as Zelenskyy violated the constitutional norms before.

Instead of giving the floor to the opposition, Razumkov invited his party member Andriy Klochko, the head of the relevant committee of the Rada that included the bill in the agenda.

Klochko stated,

“All remarks were reviewed by the committee. Those worthy of consideration were taken into account, so I propose to adopt the bill as finalized.”

Dmytro Razumkov put Klochko’s proposal up to a vote. After the majority of deputies (Servant of the People’s single-party majority) supported this de-facto prohibition of the opposition’s rights, the draft law was immediately approved in the second reading.

However, not only the deputies made critical remarks on the law’s adoption. The parliament’s Chief Expert Directorate had also recommended giving the law more work before putting it up for a vote. In that case, regulations also oblige parliament to give several days for discussion. Yet, this also didn’t matter for Razumkov and his party.

Legitimizing bad practices with new regulations

According to the current parliament’s regulations, opposition or any other parliamentarians have the right to register a draft resolution on canceling a decision adopted by the parliament. This is the way how deputies can question laws that were adopted with alleged violations. This guarantees sufficient discussion as well.

Thus, after approving the impeachment bill with multiple violations, opposition MPs from the European Solidarity party registered a draft resolution to cancel this newly-adopted law. By doing so, they at least gained time for speaking out their position. However, it occurred for the last time ever.

The Verkhovna Rada adopted amendments to parliamentary regulations that cancel the right of MPs to register draft resolutions on canceling a parliament’s decision in the first reading. This is the first case when the new parliament changed the regulations to narrow down the rights of the opposition. It might have been the first step towards de-facto elimination of any opposition.

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This attempt led to the scandalous speech by MP Iryna Gerashchenko (European Solidarity). She compared the current parliament, where the majority belongs to the Servant of the People having the green as its party color to the “little green men” – Russian soldiers without insignia who occupied Crimea in 2014.

Iryna Gerashchenko. Photo by Novynarnia.

Head of the Rada Dmytro Razumkov decided to turn off her microphone, claiming that her words were an insult. Finally, other members of the European Solidarity came to the rostrum to support Gerashchenko and Dmytro Razumkov allowed her to continue her speech,

“The Verkhovna Rada of Independent Ukraine turns into the Parliament of Crimea…” Gerashchenko continued.

People’s deputies of the Servant of the People faction started chanting “Apologize!”

“I ask the Speaker of Parliament to calm down his Jugend. And not to give them the right to shout at the opposition…” Ms. Gerashchenko said.

Members of the European Solidarity faction came to the rostrum to support their colleague Iryna Gerashchenko when the head of the Rada Dmytro Razumkov switched off her microphone. Source: Rada

She also noted the shameful practice of plagiarism that has emerged in the parliament. Deputies from the Servant of the People, she claimed, started to work “not only as a green printer but as a green copier.” She presented the list of draft laws, on which her colleagues were working for months or sometimes even years. Yet, some deputies from the Servant of the People took these drafts and just re-registered them having changed the author names to vote quickly and present themselves as reformers.

Among the other disgraceful developments in the new parliament were the first cases of piano voting (voting for other deputies known as “button-pushing”) by presidential party MPs amid loud calls of Zelenskyy and Razumkov to terminate this malpractice.

The first case of button-pushing by a deputy from the Servant of the People was noticed by the Chesno NGO.

What consequences may follow

Zelenskyy’s MPs in the Verkhovna Rada so far have not shown a capacity to become influential or independent. After their first working days, the functions of the Servant of the People party can be described as a hand of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. There would be little difference if he would start adopting his laws himself.

The new Cabinet was moderately praised as reform-oriented with most of the offices occupied by experts. Meanwhile, the Parliament has much more to be blamed for.

The domestic Ukrainian legislature and regulatory violations are one thing – bad, but not critical. But the parliament de-facto doing anything Zelenskyy says is totally another thing – this directly affects the Ukrainian foreign policies.

Dmytro Lytvyn, Ukrainian journalist and blogger, wrote that earlier, during the talks with Putin, President Poroshenko could simply tell that parliament will never accept a particular policy of an agreement with Russia regarding the special status of the Donbas (or any other unfavorable solution).

Today Zelenskyy has no such argument. Whatever he discusses with Putin he can do. Will he be able to act as a strong president and oppose Putin regardless of the gas prices and military activities in the frontline? There is no guarantee, taking into account how the last exchange of captives was conducted.

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