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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

3rd May 2011

Bad piano-playing in Kyiv

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.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.