Ukraine scored a small but significant victory in the battle against political corruption on March 2 with the launch of a new voting system in the country’s parliament that should put an end to the widespread practice of Ukrainian MPs voting on behalf of absent colleagues.
Parliamentary deputies flooded social media with photos and videos following the early March presentation of the new voting system, which now includes an additional sensor feature. In order to cast their vote, MPs must activate the sensor with one hand while voting with the other. Crucially, they must keep the sensor activated throughout the duration of the voting period, thereby preventing them from voting on behalf of neighboring MPs. “Unless you know how to vote with your feet, it’s physically impossible [to multi-vote],” noted Ukrainian MP Oleksandra Ustinova of Holos party.
The Ukrainian parliament has long been plagued by incidents of multi-voting. Known locally as “Knopkodavstvo” (“buttoning”) or “Piano-voting”, the practice involves MPs using the parliamentary cards of non-attending colleagues to register votes. It has proven convenient for parties across the political spectrum, allowing them to harvest votes and cobble together majorities amid the often rapidly changing alliances and shifting sands of Ukraine’s diverse multi-party parliamentary system.
While such conduct has always been against parliamentary regulations, the authorities have often appeared powerless to prevent frequent flagrant examples. Indeed, over the years, scenes of MPs casually voting for no-show colleagues have come to be regarded as a symbol of Ukraine’s robust but often dysfunctional democracy. If the country’s lawmakers can routinely break the law while passing laws, it is hardly surprising that corruption continues to flourish in other areas of public life.
The introduction of a sensor function is the latest in a long line of attempts to outlaw multi-voting. Efforts began in 2008, when Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk first sought to introduce a sensor system. However, the proposed format was found to be technically flawed and vulnerable to abuses. Once these initial issues had been addressed, the initiative fell victim to a range of stalling tactics, legal challenges, and other contrived obstacles.
Multi-voting next appeared on the agenda in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution. With demands for reform dominating Ukraine’s post-revolutionary political landscape, there were calls to take decisive action against multi-voting. A tender was announced for a new parliamentary voting system, but no funding was ever allocated.
Following Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidential and parliamentary election successes of 2019, the piano-voting issue once more began to attract attention. In December 2019, MPs from President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party were instrumental in passing a law that introduced criminal liability for multi-voting. However, this failed to produce a flurry of prosecutions and had little discernible impact on actual instances of multiple voting in parliament. The first attempt to hold an MP legally accountable was announced by Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova just a few weeks ago on February 12.
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