President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party has been called a “turbo-regime” and an “express democracy”, due to the party’s majority control of Parliament (with more than the 226 votes out of 450 needed for a simple majority) and the rapid speed it proposes and passes laws, often without input from minority parties.
But there are signs that the party – which consists of 252 MPs – may not be as united as it seems, and the first incident involves 11 MPs which dissented on a bill intended to curb the use of electronic middlemen in real estate sales. The bill is described by one of its sponsors, Danil Getmantsev, as a way to eliminate corruption in real estate sales.
Allegations of Bribery
Olha Vasylevska-Smahliuk, one of the 11 dissenting MPs, had her own reasons for voting against the bill, which she says is not the result of bribery – an accusation that has seen the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office open an investigation into the matter. Speaking to hromadske, she claims that she dissented because she was not given the time to fully understand the bill, despite being promised that she would have that chance.
“I was under the impression that we had agreed on taking our time to develop this new draft. Suddenly, however, I was informed that the draft law would already be heard at the committee the next day. I did not have time to form my own position [on this bill]. And so I abstained from voting,” said the MP.
She and the other members of the Finance Committee were immediately told to undergo lie detector tests as a result of their abstention or “Nay” votes, due to rumors of bribery. Vasylevska-Smahliuk says she’s ready to take the lie detector test, though on a device of her own choosing.
However, not everyone believes her reasoning. David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction, claims that the 11 dissenting MPs are not acting out of pure motives, but rather that they are part of Ihor “Kolomoisky-owned” group of MPs, referring to the infamous oligarch often rumored to be the shadow influencer behind Zelenskyy and Servant of the People.
And former Anti-Monopoly Committee Agent Agiya Zagrebelska, who worked on cases involving the “electronic middlemen” during her time at the Anti-Monopoly Committee, says that speed is what matters: “While MPs consider and deliberate on these platforms, they keep making up to $1 million per day, which is why they need to be eliminated first.”
Olha Vasylevska-Smahliuk (center), as a Servant of the People candidate for Ukraine's 96th okrug during a meeting with voters. Kyiv region, Ukraine, July 7 2019. Photo: Viktoria Sloboda / hromadske
For Vasylevska-Smahliuk’s part, she thinks that the problem lies with indecisive leadership, blaming the leadership for first making lie detector tests mandatory, then on a volunteer basis, but sharply criticizing any who decide against taking the test.
“What kind of faction leadership is it when they can’t stand their own ground on some concrete position? They see that the faction is falling apart, that the committee is falling apart … I predict that one or two scandals like this – and they will happen … and everyone will end up quarreling with each other,” commented the MP.
However, Finance Committee Chairman Getmantsev thinks the situation is overblown, and that the Servant of the People remains as united as ever, and that talk to the contrary is “a deliberately created informational wave by people who really want us to have these fractures. They really want us to not have a united faction, as it is in reality, but to have several factions that would belong to some or the other oligarch or other interests … but we are united in our positions.”
However, Getmantsev did admit that he views the party leadership’s focus on bribery allegations to have been a tactical error, saying that the party should probably not have paid attention to rumors in the press, but instead should have simply “focused on work.”
Polygraph Tests and “Deoffshore-ization”
Both Servant of the People faction leader Arakhamia and Oleksandr Dubinsky, another one of the 11 dissenting MPs, have taken polygraph tests and passed when answering “No” to the question of taking bribes for the “electronic middleman” law or any other. And more MPs are expected to undergo the exam, though it should be noted that polygraph test results are not allowed to be used as evidence in Ukrainian courts, and that there is little reason to believe that polygraph tests accurately measure deception.
A better measure may be an upcoming vote on a bill nicknamed “deoffshore-ization”, which will heavily impact Kolomoisky’s holdings. But in the meantime, MPs are taking lie detector tests and so far, at least, none have been found taking bribes.
/By Romeo Kokriatski