КНОПКОДАВ phenomenon: How Ukrainians fight MPs’ hypocrisy in Parliament

Victoria Dodon
Rada Supremă de la Kiev Foto: CIJM

An electronic voting system in Parliament does not necessarily ensure maximum quality of legislative sessions. This is proved by Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in Kiev, where a vicious practice of vote rigging has been registered over the past years.

It happens like this: each of the 450 MPs has a nominal card. To vote, they insert the card in the slot of the table, press the button and this confirms the vote. The cards are inserted into the slots in advance, by the secretaries of factions and all you have to do, as an MP, is to push that button or not, expressing your position  over a particular matter. What happens if you miss the meeting? Obviously, you do not vote. Or... ask your faction colleague to vote for you, violating the Constitution in this way.

The phenomenon became a tradition among MPs and reached its peak during the government of Victor Yanukovych, it provoked anger among civil society representatives. Imagine the situation when a group of MPs run to and fro in the plenary, pressing buttons.

Here is an example: 

Moreover, the vote for other faction colleagues is a direct fraud of the Constitution of Ukraine, which starting 1996, the year of adoption, clearly says that every MP must vote personally. "Pressing the button for someone else, you take the right, which is not yours, to represent 50,000 voters, for example. After all, your child will ask you one day why you voted for a certain bill? What will you say? That it is not your business? That actually someone else voted instead of you? How would you explain it?", wonders Andrei Kruglashov, coordinator of the Civic Movement "Chesno".

In 2011, a team of active young people, along with dozens of other NGOs carrying the image of garlic as logo (an allusion to the pun "чесно" - "чеснок" (garlic) in Russian), have started a national campaign of "cleansing" of unworthy candidates in the future Parliament in Kiev. Six criteria of integrity were established, including participation in plenary meetings and observation of the principle of personal voting.

Hypocrite MPs were nicknamed "Кнопкодавы", meaning “people who press the button" and they started to hunt them in plenary meetings - a journalist delegated by the team "Chesno” takes photos of them, requests comments, writes stories and posts them on social networks.

Initially, there were few reactions, says Kruglashov.

Andrei Kruglashov (left) Photo: CIJM

Opposition candidates of the party "Batkivscina" said that they fought the criminal regime and they did not have time to sit in Parliament day and night, while they have to be present in settlements and fight for the elections. We were not overwhelmed. Party "Udar" was established and said: "We will not have knopkodavi!", then "Svoboda" said: "We will be better and we will not have truants in the faction". "Batkivshina" was scared and a rough standard was sketched gradually - to "press the button" is unjustified!

In less than four years, the phenomenon went viral and the term кнопкодав has gained legitimacy, a verb and an adjective. "Chesno" team created a panel of shame (Доска позора кнопкодавов), where each sinner of the faction, his faction,  link to photo / video, the number of votes cast for other colleagues are shown. Their banner placed on "Ukrainskaia Pravda" website, most popular information source in the country, had 80,000 visualizations within first 30 minutes.

Infographic: chesno.org

Now campaigners for upright MPs in the Parliament are about to introduce penalties for fraudulent voting system in Parliament. "I state that the phenomenon reduces gradually, some MPs express their regret in public about the way they acted so far and will not do it. I believe that corruption and “button pressing"   used to be strong institutions, now tottering, and civil society plays the most important role in this fight. The next step is the adoption of the bill involving the introduction of sanctions. We will force them to vote for it", said the leader of the movement "Chesno ".

But if the MPs are against? “Lobbying, protests, pressure through social networks, we will sleep in front of the Parliament Building if necessary. We must prove that any decision has two sides- either you are with the nation or not", concludes activist from Kiev.

P.S. Meanwhile, the Chisinau government struggles to get some money to introduce electronic voting system in Parliament. After a sum of almost 13 million lei was earmarked for the installation of the equipment, the authorities seek another 45 thousand euro for a software application. Still, MPs from our country raise hands to vote. "Just like in the Stone Age", tells me someone from Kiev. Luckily, there are only 101 MPs...

Victoria Dodon
2016-03-09 09:59:00