How can the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, best ensure that it meets the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people?

I've blogged before about the unfortunate propensity of members of the Rada to settle disputes by physical violence – inside the chamber – rather than by debate.  When I noted recently with approval that there hadn't been any fights or attempts physically to block the rostrum this year a couple of people commented that parliamentary procedures by parties on all sides left much to be desired, including the scourge of "piano playing".

“Piano playing" refers to the action whereby deputies in the Rada vote more than once, including for absent colleagues. In theory, this is impossible: each deputy has an electronic voting card which only he or she is allowed to insert into the voting machines in the Rada chamber to register his or her presence, and to vote.  Instead, what happens is that a single deputy may have the cards of two or more deputies and move around during a vote inserting cards in several voting machines (hence "piano playing") to vote more than once.

The odd thing is that proceedings in the Rada are televised and much-photographed.  So the Rada authorities have plenty of evidence of when people have voted more than once.  Yet they continue to recognize such votes.  This unfortunately gives the impression that neither the deputies approving the draft legislation nor the Rada authorities take democracy seriously.

Some people argue that action against "piano playing" is impossible because, although the practice is illegal, no law exists which defines penalties.  This is not a strong argument.  Here are three ways the authorities could stop the practice:

the Rada authorities could refuse to recognize any vote where there was evidence of individuals voting more than once;

the Rada authorities could hold MPs caught “piano playing” personally accountable and discipline them, for example by suspension from the Rada for an agreed period;

the Rada authorities could turn off the dodgy voting machines and use simple, old-fashioned voting mechanisms requiring MPs physically to walk through a door to vote.  These are hard to fake.  Some examples – including the UK – are here

Ultimately the answer lies in the hands of the Rada itself; and how much the Rada and its members care how they are perceived in the country and internationally.  Ukraine has produced many musical virtuosos; but this kind of “piano-playing” is harmful to the image of Ukraine, and Ukrainian democracy.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: 



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