Igor Markov feels that a recent court ruling that stripped him off a seat in parliament is retaliation against his independent position in the pro-presidential Party of Regions and his refusal to be bullied into voting how he is told.
“Any attempt to express an alternative point of view is considered treason,” he told Kyiv Post in an interview on Sept. 16.
Markov, 40, was elected to parliament last October through a majority constituency in Odesa, and struck an agreement to cooperate with the Party of Regions even before the end of the election campaign. On Sept. 12, the High Administrative Court of Ukraine ruled that the Central Election Commission has to cancel his mandate because of falsifications during the elections and vote count.
Many consider this decision controversial because the law only allows five days for appealing election results. This case was the fourth since the last election when members of parliament, known in Ukraine as deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, lost their mandates though controversial court decision.
Markov said he saw it coming after he started to be approached by party leaders when he disagreed with its concept of pension reform and refused to support the law. He says dissidents like himself who disagree with the official party line are treated ruthlessly.
“One deputy prime minister attempted to buy me, another top manager of the faction threatened,” he said. He said Party of Regions deputies receive an incentive of $5,000 monthly for voting how they are told. He said he personally received such offers from faction leadership, but refused to give names.
But Oleksandr Yefremov, Party of Regions faction leader, refuted the accusations. “I have never forced him to vote for any bills. I was interested in his point of view as with any deputy. There was never any talk that someone must vote for something. I never actually talk to deputies like this,” Yefremov was quoted by the Party of Regions website as saying.
Markov insists that most of the 207 deputies in the Party of Regions faction are unhappy because the faction is run by force. “Either the business is squeezed, or the mandate is canceled as in my case,” he says. He plans to appeal the ruling in the European Court for Human Rights.
Markov said the latest split in the party is over the official line of European integration and pressure to vote for laws that would allow Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union this November. Earlier this month, there was a nasty public spat around this issue in the Party of Regions, and the president was even forced to preside over an emergency faction meeting on Sept. 4 to quell dissent.
This was one of the first visible splits in the ruling party, which consists of many varied informal political and interest groups.
After the court ruling, Markov, a right-wing hardliner and businessman who stands for closer ties with Russia and Customs Union and wants to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, received a lot of support from the opposition, including its imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In her letter released on Sept. 14, opposition leader Tymoshenko called Markov “the new leader of southern and eastern Ukraine” and said that repression against him are going to keep the Regions faction in fear, subdued and doing exactly what the president tells them. But Markov himself disagrees – at least with the second part of her statement. He says the bullying is a sign of great weakness.
“No regime based on fear can last for a long time,” he says. “Closer to elections, the probability of the collapse of the faction is 100 percent.” He said that an overwhelming majority of the Party of Regions faction members “are looking for dispersal fields.”
“They understand the futility of this movement (the Party of Regions), but they do not talk about it out loud,” Markov said.
Markov said many deputies in his faction share his sentiment about the need to have alternative points of view and be able to vote for laws based on these convictions. In his case, it was joining the Customs Union with Russia and Belarus that got him into trouble, he believes.
Markov said there was talk about creation of a group of deputies within the Party of Regions to promote this idea, and this threat was one of the reasons for repressions against him personally.
He said what contributed to his troubles was some of the comments he made in private conversations over the telephone, which were tapped and quoted back to him. He claimed all Party of Regions deputies are being tapped by several secret services.
Asked whether he pursued any legal actions against the tapping, Markov said he wrote a parliament member's inquiry to the Interior Ministry and the State Security Service, and both denied the tapping.
“But the very mechanism, the very attitude to the deputies is (appalling),” he says. “What has it got in common with democracy, with parliamentarianism or even with common sense?”
Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.