Several Ukrainian politicians are accused of vote rigging inside the country’s parliament in order to push through a new protestor amnesty law, as President Victor Yanukovich went on sick leave citing respiratory problems.
In a parliamentary session in Kiev on Wednesday evening, pro-government politicians were seen voting illegally in favour of the new law on behalf of absent opposition members.
Pushing through the amnesty law was one of the government’s latest attempts to end the unrest that has gripped the country since mid-November. The sharp escalation of street unrest was prompted by Yanukovich’s rejection of a European Union deal in favour of closer ties with Russia.
The new law offers amnesty to dozens of arrested anti-government protesters, but only if opposition demonstrators vacate most of the government buildings they occupy and demolish their barricades.
The official count of the vote registered 232 members of parliament in favour. Two politicians abstained from voting and 11 others went against it. Yanukovich’s party pushed through its preferred draft of the law with a majority of just six votes.
Vote rigging photographed
Parliamentary allies of Yanukovich were photographed while reaching over to the voting terminals embedded in the parliament seats of their absent colleagues to vote on their behalf.
When opposition politician Lesya Orobets tried to stop the voting fraud she was manhandled on the floor of the House.
“Can you imagine in a civilised world a parliamentarian isn’t voting for himself personally or herself but for his neighbours. We call them button pushers,” Orobets told Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Kiev, the capital.
“So this is what happened yesterday (Wednesday). They had some ten or fifteen cards and I caught one of them not only voting for him but for his neighbour which is a violation of the constitution, of everything, a crime,” Orobets added.
Ivan Popescu, a member of parliament, has been in Strasbourg this week to attend the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. But his name appears on the list of politicians who attended the parliamentary vote on the amnesty bill in Kiev, showing that he voted in favour of the bill.
A spokesperson for Popescu told Al Jazeera that he will have his vote cancelled during the next parliamentary session and will push for an investigation.
“MP Ivan Popesku confirmed he is in Strasbourg since Monday and of course he was absent in the parliament on January 29th, when so-called “Amnesty bill” (by Party of Regions) had passed,” the spokesperson said.
The anti-government protesters rejected the amnesty bill and said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to hold off on releasing his country’s next bailout installment will not impact their stance that Yanukovich should resign.
With his medical leave of absence, Yanukovich is leaving behind a political vacuum.
“The president of Ukraine has been officially registered as sick with an acute respiratory ailment and a high temperature,” at statement on the presidential website said on Thursday.
The bare announcement, which gave no indication of when he might be back at his desk, left open the possibility that he could still work on documents even though he was on sick leave.
“Today is the first day of the illness. He has a high temperature. We are not doctors, but it is clear that a high temperature does not go down in a single day,” a presidential spokesman said by telephone.
“The doctors will do all they can so that he can recover quickly.”