Dodgy Players, Dodgier Game
With Tymoshenko still imprisoned and EU patience wearing thin, you might have thought now was not the time to arrest another politician. Ukraine’s leaders would appear to have decided otherwise, for reasons which suggest some very strange manoeuvres.
Igor Markov, leader of a marginal and strongly pro-Russian party Rodina and until recently an MP, was taken into custody on Oct. 22 in Odessa, his native city. He was brought to Kyiv by plane and there remanded in custody for at least two months. He is accused of organizing the beating up of Ukrainian nationalist VO Svoboda party supporters protesting against a monument to the Russian Empress Catherine II in Odessa.
Beating up your opponents is undoubtedly undemocratic, probably illegal, so on the face of it there could be charges to answer.
Now for the difficulties: the impugned offence, classified as “hooliganism”, took place in 2007. In 2012 the Central Election Commission [CEC] found no problem in registering Markov as parliamentary candidate for the single-mandate electoral district No. 133 in Odessa. It later recognized him as a duly elected MP, with a lead of over 6% against his closest rival. In parliament he joined up with the ruling Party of the Regions faction. He is, however, known for his extreme pro-Russian views and had recently publically threatened to vote against bills needed for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
On Sept. 19, almost 11 months after being elected to parliament, the High Administrative Court in Kyiv ordered the CEC to cancel Markov’s mandate. Unlike the central electoral authority, the court deemed that it had been impossible to establish reliable results for Markov’s constituency. There had apparently been reports to the police of vote-rigging, including pens with vanishing ink. How much ink would be needed to ensure a 6% lead is not clear, but the court decided that the results were void and that the CEC should organize a re-run.
It should be noted that this is the fifth MP whose election wins were confirmed by the CEC but whose mandates have been removed by the courts. The election watchdogs OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] gave a damning assessment of the ruling on Markov and noted that the recent spate of court annulments of MPs’ mandate was a threat to parliamentarianism and could adversely affect negotiations on the EU-Ukraine Association agreement.
Markov’s lawyer has asserted that his client was summoned to the police over one charge and detained over another. Since the summons was for around 6 in the evening, it seems likely the detention was planned. He was clearly expecting it and had prepared a video beforehand calling on supporters to come out in protest, which around a hundred did that evening.
Russia’s State Duma has expressed protest and demanded Markov’s release. The Chief Editor of the Internet publication Levy Bereg, Sonya Koshkina has suggested that Markov was needed as hostage in Yanukovych’s planned negotiations with Putin in Minsk. There are and will continue to be other explanations mooted.
Whatever the motives, it does seem likely that the target has been chosen to be a near mirror image of Tymoshenko. He is openly pro-Russian, against EU integration and cordially hated by the opposition. When Tymoshenko’s defence counsel and opposition MP, Serhiy Vlasenko, was stripped of his mandate in March this year, the same High Administrative Court first stripped a ruling Party of the Regions MP of his mandate. The attempt at symmetry then was pitifully transparent and fooled nobody.
There is warranted outrage at present among the opposition over attempts to send Tymoshenko to Germany without revoking her sentence. There was also scandal over a strange Tax Code amendment hastily voted in by the ruling majority which could prevent leader of the UDAR party, Vitaliy Klitschko from standing for the Presidency in 2015. With Tymoshenko likely to be excluded from the presidential race, Klitschko is almost certainly the strongest opponent to the current president.
There has been considerable discussion, but relatively limited concern expressed over the arrest of Igor Markov on criminal charges which date back 6 years. The EU has made no comment.
Whatever manoeuvres are currently underway, law enforcement bodies and the courts are yet again being used for political ends. Obnoxious Markov’s views may be, but the methods used are dodgy and hardly reflect any move away from selective justice.