Zelensky Says Ukraine Won't Hold Elections, Signaling Another Extension of Martial Law

President Volodymyr Zelensky, hailed by the media and governments as a global symbol of democracy, has indicated that elections will not be held in Ukraine.

According to the Ukrainian Constitution, presidential elections cannot be held during martial law. While Zelensky’s five-year term is set to expire in March of next year, it is expected that he will continue to lead the country throughout the war. With no signs of either country relenting and peace talks yet to resume, this poses an indefinite timeline. 

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Zelesnsky initially declared martial law last year on February 24 and has extended it seven times since. The last 90-day extension was made on May 20, 2023, due to end on August 18

In an interview last month, the Ukranian President was fuzzy on how elections are administered after the end of martial rule, signaling that an upcoming election may not be in his plans. He said:

If we have martial law, we cannot have elections. The constitution prohibits any elections during martial law. If there is no martial law, then there will be. Well, the law says that according to the constitution of Ukraine, after martial law ends, I think, in 90 days, elections are held. It’s something like that. I don’t remember actually.

In the aftermath of the aborted march toward Moscow by the Wagner group, threatening power in Russia’s Kremlin on Saturday, Zelensky doubled down, saying in an interview:

According to [Ukrainian] legislation, elections must be held in peacetime when there are no hostilities.

Similarly, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, also said that parliamentary elections were not on the agenda for the same reasons.

In May, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Tini Kox, a Dutch politician, pressured the country in several media appearances made during the time the Council of Europe summit was gathering in Reykjavik. Kox said that Ukrainian authorities must find a way to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on time, urging “creativity”:

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But don’t leave it to the Russian aggressor to decide when you will have elections. That would be my message. And again, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe as a whole are more than ready to help you.

In the past, Ukraine has shown that it’s able to organize elections in difficult circumstances. For example, during COVID, your Government, with the support of the Central Election Commission, managed to organize elections. We all know that it was very, very difficult, but you managed.

So, my appeal to you is to be creative. See if there are means in the future based on democratic decision-making by your Government and your Parliament to start preparing elections and perhaps allow elections. But again, your Constitution is leading, nobody should rule and act against the Constitution.

Kox answered a question about the implementation of e-voting and suggested that a process to amend the Constitution could be initiated, saying:

And in the case of Ukraine, it is clear, as I said, as long as your Constitution does not allow it, you will not have elections. It’s in the hands of your Parliament and Government to decide whether to amend the Constitution. But I would advise you to start preparing and perhaps also start preparing voting by e-voting. But again, that’s completely in the hands of your authorities and your Parliament.

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In response, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexey Danilov said that no elections can be held and suggested that PACE should re-focus their efforts elsewhere:

I want to stress that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has to realize that we have our own Constitution and our own laws, which we must observe. PACE would be better off doing other things, not allowing the Russian Federation to meddle in their affairs. We will handle this ourselves, in accordance with our laws and our Constitution. When the [martial law] is in effect, as it currently is, no elections can take place. Full stop.

Danilov also expressed that he hoped PACE representatives would stop telling Ukraine what to do.

Former LPR Ambassador to Moscow Rodio Miroshnik told Russian state media on Saturday that in order to hold parliamentary elections on October 29, 2023, Ukraine should not extend martial law after August 18 but instead announce a 60-day campaign cycle beginning on August 28. According to the country’s legislation, the next presidential election must be held in the spring of 2024.

While Zelensky doesn’t appear to be making plans to hold elections in the near future, he did address the domestic politics of Russia on Saturday, writing, “And what will you, Russians, do? The longer your troops stay on Ukrainian land, the more devastation they will bring to Russia. The longer this person is in the Kremlin, the more disasters there will be.”

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