No, Zelensky hasn’t “canceled” Ukrainian elections

Introduction

Accusations have circulated on social media that President Zelensky of Ukraine has cancelled elections in Ukraine, and extended martial law in order to remain in power.

In fact, holding elections now, under wartime conditions, would almost guarantee another Zelensky victory. It would also be illegal under Ukrainian laws that predate Zelensky’s time in power.

If the United States had been invaded by a foreign country, with:

  • 20% of its land under hostile occupation
  • millions of Americans in enemy hands, unable to vote
  • rockets and drones falling on civilian targets daily, posing a deadly threat to any crowded gathering, such as lines at polling stations –

would the US hold general elections under these circumstances? Would you want it to?

This is the question Ukraine is faced with today.

Posts claiming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has “cancelled” elections in Ukraine have recently gone viral on Twitter.

As evidence, users cited remarks made by Mr Zelensky in an interview with the BBC in late June.

Asked whether there will be elections in Ukraine next year, Mr Zelensky responded: “If we win [the war], there will be. It means there will be no martial law, no war. Elections must be held in peacetime, when there is no war, according to the law.”

Commenting on the statement, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who’s been critical of US aid for Ukraine, said in his recently launched Twitter show that Mr Zelensky’s comments proved he’d ended democracy in Ukraine. […]

Screenshot of tweet

The Ukrainian constitution prohibits the dissolution of parliament and national elections during martial law, meaning the current president and parliament will remain in charge until the period of martial law comes to an end.

An analysis in Foreign Policy explores this subject in depth:

Whether objections to the postponement of Ukraine’s elections come from a place of hostility or sympathy, they fail to understand that voting during this war would be legally, practically, and institutionally impossible. Ukraine is under martial law, with constant threat of Russian bombs and many of its people displaced. Postponing elections was not a function of any fear on Zelensky’s part, since his approval ratings have soared during wartime. A country under a full-scale invasion and occupation is simply in no position to vote. […]

Article 83 of the Ukrainian Constitution states that if the term of the Verkhovna Rada expires under martial law, it shall automatically be extended until a new Rada is seated following the end of martial law. Article 19 of Ukraine’s martial law legislation specifically forbids conducting national elections. Thus, for Ukraine to conduct elections while under martial law would be a violation of legal norms that predate Zelensky and the full-scale Russian invasion. […]

Ukraine has a system of robust procedures to ensure the integrity of the voting process. All ballot boxes must be visible by observers and members of the precinct electoral committee at all times so that no stuffing of ballots or other malfeasance can take place. Similarly, the counting of ballots must occur in a single sitting in sight of all observers and committee members. How can constant oversight of ballots, voter lists, and other important documents be maintained as everyone shuffles off to the bomb shelter? How can security be maintained when everybody in the voting hall and lined up outside needs to crowd into the limited shelter space? […]

The ongoing bombing also makes it impractical to ensure that every Ukrainian has an equal opportunity to vote. Ukraine cannot provide fair access to the ballot when the act of going to cast one’s ballot carries varying levels of risk across the country. […]

With one in three Ukrainians now displaced and the SVR [State Voter Registry] unable to be updated until well after the October 2023 parliamentary elections were scheduled, a wartime election would disenfranchise millions of Ukrainian voters, making any attempt to provide a legitimate democratic mandate futile.

If people are truly concerned about the Ukrainian government’s decision to postpone elections paving the way to a Zelensky dictatorship, it is worth asking whether this concern would be better addressed by holding elections on schedule. The truth is that if elections were held now, it is highly likely Zelensky and his Servant of the People party would win an ironclad mandate. […]

Ukraine would not be the first democracy to hold off on voting during a fight for its life. The United Kingdom postponed its parliamentary elections while battling for its survival against Nazi Germany, while Canada—despite not seeing wartime action on its own territory—postponed parliamentary elections during both World Wars.


Summary

No, Zelensky hasn’t cancelled elections in Ukraine. In fact, it would be illegal for him to hold elections during wartime, even if he wanted to.

Holding elections now during wartime would likely strengthen Zelensky’s chances of reelection. On the other hand, holding elections now would also:

  • put civilian lives at risk from Russian missile strikes on polling places
  • likely deprive millions of Ukrainians of their right to cast a vote.

Delaying elections in Ukraine until they can be held both legally and safely is the responsible thing to do, and the best way to ensure fair and democratic results.

More sources:

All sources:

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