Almost the first time, Volodymyr Zelensky has threatened the MPs of his faction: “Probably, many people think that the president’s international visit to a distant country is a convenient opportunity to discredit the Servant of the People faction and sow discord and schism that our enemies will love - both external and internal. I want to tell these people: if you really think so you’re deeply mistaken. I am aware of all the events. Not a single statement, not a single information operation passes me by. And I won’t allow anyone inside or outside the faction to cast a shadow over the political force that received most mandates from the people of Ukraine… Therefore, I believe that all members of the committee on finance, tax, and customs policy should pass a lie detector test. If this test establishes at least the slightest chance that one of the deputies took money for voting on the committee, anti-corruption bodies should deal with these MPs."
The "predecessors" are to blame
The story began on October 18th. The parliamentary Finance Committee (mentioned by Zelensky) was considering bill 2047-d, aimed at eliminating automated electronic platforms that evaluated real estate. What are these sites? Imagine that you need to value a property. You go to the appraiser, but do not rely too much on his honesty. He deliberately underestimates the value of your property. Isn't it better than this is done not by a person, but by a robot? In 2018, electronic platforms were invented to work transparently and openly. But this does not happen in Ukraine, unfortunately.
It turned out that electronic platforms give the runarounds to the real estate. But no matter who profited from real estate appraisal, it was decided to cover up the electronic platforms. And the bill 2047-d was about it. However, “something went wrong,” and the MPs did not support the bill. Danylo Getmantsev, the chairman of the committee, announced that the draft law had secured the support of MPs from Holos parliamentary faction and five of the 16 parliamentarians representing Servant of the People.
30 thousand pieces of silver
But that was not the end of the story. After some time, Serhiy Leshchenko, the ubiquitous ex-MP shared an insider’s information: he knows that those who voted against it received a 30,000 USD bribe. Parliamentary old-timers and corrupt officials laughed at the scarcity of such an amount.
Nevertheless, thanks to Leshchenko, the conflict went public. The information on bribes came to Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAP). "11 MPs, who are members of the parliamentary committee on finance, tax, and customs policy, allegedly received 30,000 USD of undue profit for voting against the bill on the elimination of corruption schemes when evaluating real estate at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada Committee. Information entered into the Unified the register of pre-trial investigations on the grounds of a crime under Part 4 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine," the anti-corruption prosecutor’s statement said.
After that, new characters entered the scene, both from the Servant of the People faction. Faction chairman Davyd Arakhamia and odious MP Oleksandr Dubinsky joined together. The latter demanded an apology, while the former only confirmed that a bribe had taken place.
Dubinsky explained that no one was going to leave the old criminal schemes in effect. He wrote on Facebook that during a memorable meeting of the parliamentary committee, MPs agreed that an alternative solution would be developed within the next two weeks.
In response to this, Arakhamia continued to claim that he had "indirect facts" of bribery of the MPs. He also invited all involved to undergo the polygraph test. Dubinsky agreed, but on condition that the committee members and the head of the faction would come to the lie detector. Arakhamia, in turn, expressed complete readiness to do this.
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the confrontation between Dubinsky and Arakhamia, relations between ordinary MPs deteriorate. However, they are all trying to make excuses. MP Olga Vasylevska-Smaglyuk explains that all the bills presented on the committee were imperfect and did not solve the issues of liquidation of schemes.
When will the Servant of the People faction break up?
"The faction will explode before spring when the president’s ratings would lower and he will no longer have such unconditional support from the society. Then, the deputies of his faction will begin to conflict with the president," Ruslan Bortnyk, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Analysis and Policy Management, told.
Bortnyk believes that now the MPs are still holding back a certain calculation. They do not want to lose the position of their leader but gradually pump their muscles. "Now the struggle of the groups in the faction is obvious and all of the group) are not in a hurry to show themselves in full force, being aware that the president will not tolerate competition," the expert adds.
“In order to assess the centrifugal tendencies within the faction, it’s worth waiting for Zelensky’s next rating. If it is stable, then certain freezing of rebellious sentiments will be observed in the faction. If the rating starts to fall, there can be anything. The Verkhovna Rada has stopped working in the regime of “a crazy printer,” and began to work on bills more thoughtfully, which means that the groups began to crystallize and form their own position," Bogdan Petrenko, the deputy director of Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism, notes.
Bortnyk believes that passing a polygraph test is nothing more than Zelensky’s trick. It might impress the voter, but in any case, it will have nothing to do with the fight against corruption. “A polygraph test is a political technology tool. Because if the president is aware of bribes in the Verkhovna Rada, he should not write a post on Facebook but should contact the prosecutor general to submit a proposal to the parliament to remove the immunity from a number of MPs. This is not a punishment, it’s just the beginning of the inspection - so that National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) or other law enforcement agencies could investigate this case, but there’s nothing like that. But there are some incomprehensible statements about the polygraph, where everyone is ready to go,” he assured.
Director of the Institute for Global Strategies Vadym Karasiov believes that Zelensky would sacrifice part of the faction if necessary. "Zelensky will hand over his people because it will be a bright hype for him. Did he promise to fight corruption? He did. None of the Ukrainian presidents has fulfilled Li Kuan Yu’s covenant and put three of his friends behind the bars, but Zelensky will do it. Maybe, not friends, but the faction colleagues. Generally, it’s a rather non-trivial step for the president himself, I mean to threaten his MPs with putting into jail for corruption. This could be highly esteemed by the voters and the rating of the Ze!Team will be saved," the expert says.
Andriy Zolotariov, head of the Third Sector Center, supports this opinion: “There is no such tool as a polygraph in the criminal code, but after this procedure, there will at least be a reason to turn to SAP or NABU. It’s good that the president does not ignore this.”
“The president is tired of Kolomoysky’s supervision (Ihor Kolomoysky, Ukrainian oligarch, often believed to be tied with Zelensky, - ed.), of his regency. Therefore, if any direct evidence of corruption is received, and even obtained online, yes, it will hit Kolomoysky," Karasiov assumes. However, he adds, “Zelensky would have some difficulties with ruling without Kolomoysky. He is still quite a powerful figure, and Kolomoysky has not yet given Zelensky 1+1 TV channel. He’s not planning to destroy Ihor Kolomoysky, but he might just weaken him. Who would he stay with without Kolomoysky? With Akhmetov, Pinchuk, Tymoshenko? No, this is not good for him. I think that they can’t live without each other. Only together they can achieve their goals. However, each of them has their own goals.”
Meanwhile, this is not a good time for Kolomoysky. London court ruled to oblige the oligarch to pay PrivatBank 10.9 million pounds ($ 14 million) until November 12, 2019. This is a rather insignificant part of what Kolomoysky owed to the bank. According to government estimates, the debt of the former reaches $ 3 billion.
But this is just another story. Returning to the polygraph issue, social media users chuckle at the strong belief of President Zelensky in a lie detector. The head of state is advised to test potential bribe-takers in the same way as witches were tested in the Middle Ages. Tie and throw into the river, and whoever comes up is a corrupt official. Well, whoever drowns was an honest man...
Vadym Karasiov notes, “when choosing between the procedure, the law, and the show, this team chooses the show, that is, relies on the ‘classroom democracy.’ For following the procedure is too boring, too routine.”