The presidential elections have become an issue in Ukrainian politics. Or, at least, the discussion about whether or not to hold the election, initially scheduled for the end of March 2024. Initially, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmitry Kuleba, stated that the president was considering holding elections in the second quarter next year. However, days later, last Monday (6), President Volodymyr Zelensky made a statement rejecting the possibility of holding elections in times of war.
“We must determine that now is the time for defense, the time for battle, on which the fate of the state and the people depends, and not the time for demands that only Russia expects from Ukraine. I believe now is not the time for elections,” she said.
The Ukrainian leader noted that, in times of war, there are “many challenges”, and therefore, according to him, now “it is absolutely irresponsible to raise the topic of elections in society.”
According to the Ukrainian constitution, holding elections, both parliamentary and presidential, is prohibited in the event of a state of war, which has been in force since February 2022. Last Wednesday (8), Ukraine’s parliament approved the extension of martial law until February 14, 2024, which legally prevents the start of electoral campaign processes within the established deadlines.
However, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s stance on the possibility of holding elections has fluctuated in recent months. In October, he stated that the election could be held even during martial law, if parliament and the government “managed to find answers to all the challenges”.
One of the answers to the recent determination to refuse to hold elections is society’s increasing rejection of this idea. A survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) showed that 81% of the population believe that elections should be held after the war. Only 16% were in favor of the idea of holding elections with the war underway. In September, another study by the Razumkov Center showed that 64% of Ukrainians were against holding elections during the war.
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In an interview with Brazil in factthe director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, Ruslan Bortnik, stated that the government’s reservation in holding the elections is more linked to the fear of institutional instability than the possible consequences of the vote itself.
“When people talk about elections in Ukraine, they are not necessarily talking about elections, and this is not very well understood by the international press. Everyone thinks there is a discussion about the elections, whether they will take place or not, whether the government doesn’t want it, whether the opposition insists, etc. Actually, it’s not quite like that. Today the government is not so afraid of the election itself, since Zelensky’s popularity is high, he could win again in the elections. The government fears more the instability of the electoral process,” he argues.
According to Bortnik, the state of war that the country finds itself in implies a series of restrictions that are an obstacle to the full holding of democratic elections.
“It is necessary to allow political events, demonstrations and rallies, and the government fears that if the democratic electoral process is carried out, the country will be internally destabilized by protests, with harsh rhetoric and criticism from opposition channels, this is what the government fears, and not the vote itself”, he explains.
The war also gave rise to and gave rise to anti-democratic measures by Zelensky that made a proper electoral process unfeasible. In March 2022, the Ukrainian president ordered a ban on the main opposition political parties, arguing alleged links with Russia. Furthermore, the country went through a process of merging TV channels adopting a “unified information policy”.
As stated by Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, Nikolai Petro, cited by the Russian agency Ria Novosti, serious political debates are impossible in Ukraine, since Kiev demands that television channels broadcast a “single version of the news”.
Zelensky has high popularity, but rejection increases
Despite the Ukrainian president maintaining high approval ratings in the country, public opinion polls show that Volodymyr Zelensky suffers a sharp increase in rejection rates among the Ukrainian population.
“If a year ago disapproval and distrust towards Zelensky was 5-6%, today this figure is 22%, unpopularity has increased, that’s a point. Secondly, the approval level dropped from around 90% to 70-75%, depending on the opinion poll. But the absolute approval rate, that is, people who fully trust the president, is now below 50%”, explains political scientist Ruslan Bortnik.
According to a study carried out by the Ukrainian Policy Institute, the confidence index in Volodymyr Zelensky, if we compare May 2022 and October 2023, fell from 74% to 39%. The population’s trust in the country’s parliament fell from 58% to 21% in the same period.
At the same time, the discussion about the elections itself created a platform for opponents to move. In particular, the former adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Aleksey Arestovich, announced plans to run for president and in his political program promised to achieve peace with Russia.
With harsh criticism of the current president, Arestovich went so far as to declare that the Ukrainian governmental system has reached the limit of its competence and that its internal, foreign and military policies are “killing Ukraine”. In his political program, the former member of Zelensky’s government stated that, under his leadership, Kiev will commit not to recapture the territories occupied by Russia militarily, but will seek to retake the regions only through political means.
At the same time, rumors are growing in Ukraine about a possible rift between Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valery Zaluzhny, also speculated as someone who could threaten the current president’s power and pose as a candidate. Speculation arose after Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky publicly disputed Zaluzhny’s statements. In particular, in an interview with The Economistthe commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that the war with Russia “has reached a dead end” and that the Ukrainian offensive risks giving way to a trench war that could drag on for years.
Political scientist Ruslan Bortnik claims that the results of possible elections will be determined only by the course of the war. “If there is a conditional freeze on the war, support for the left camp will increase significantly, favoring Arestovich, for example. And, conversely, support for the military sector and the current government will decrease. The course of the war will determine the architecture of the candidates. Therefore, we will only be able to determine at least something when the electoral campaign begins”, he adds.
Russia accuses Ukraine of ‘legitimacy crisis’
Commenting on movements in Ukraine’s internal politics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared last Thursday, the 8th, that Russia is monitoring the situation, but stressed that it is an internal issue for Ukraine.
At the same time, he highlighted that for Moscow it is important that the Kiev regime understands “that it is absurd to talk about expectations of victory over Russia on the battlefield.”
For Ruslan Bortnik, the question about the Ukrainian elections will be used in an information campaign by Russia, which also has presidential elections scheduled for March 2024. According to him, the parallel with Russia creates a crisis of legitimacy for Ukraine.
“From a legal point of view, according to the letter of the law, everything is fine in Ukraine, elections cannot be held now, neither parliamentary nor presidential, but from the point of view of legitimacy, I believe that after March next year, the Russia will seek to promote an information campaign against Ukraine around the world, asserting that Ukraine has no legitimate governing bodies, that the authority of Ukraine’s president and parliament has been exhausted, and that Ukraine has an authoritarian regime that refuses to hold elections , therefore there would be a legitimacy problem. This will happen without a doubt”, adds the analyst.
Editing: Leandro Melito