Zelenskyy Says ‘Now Is Not the Right Time’ for Elections in Ukraine

Zelenskyy Says ‘Now Is Not the Right Time’ for Elections in Ukraine
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint press conference with the European Commission president following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Nov. 4, 2023. (Anatoli Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Monday evening that he believes the time is not right to hold elections in Ukraine.

Under normal circumstances, Ukraine would have been on track to hold presidential elections in March of 2024, but the country has been under martial law since Russian forces invaded in February of 2022. Under Ukrainian law, elections and other forms of political activity cannot take place during a period of martial law, and the Ukrainian parliament has continually extended its martial law declaration since the start of the war.

“We all understand that now, in wartime, when there are so many challenges, it is absolutely irresponsible to throw the topic of elections into society in a lighthearted and playful way,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a Monday night address.

Mr. Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian state must continue to focus on wartime defense, and “the waves of any politically divisive things must stop.”

“We must realize that now is the time of defense, the time of the battle that determines the fate of the state and people, not the time of manipulations, which only Russia expects from Ukraine,” Mr. Zelenskyy added. “I believe that now is not the right time for elections.”

The Ukrainian president gave his assurance that there are sufficient legal tools to resolve political disputes while the martial law period continues.

“If we need to put an end to a political dispute and continue to work in unity, there are structures in the state that are capable of putting an end to it and giving society all the necessary answers. So that there is no room left for conflicts and someone else’s game against Ukraine,” he said.

Shifting Election Timelines

Mr. Zelenskyy warned earlier this year that Ukraine’s normal presidential and parliamentary election cycles could be thrown off by the war. His initial comments attracted some criticism, and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) president Tini Kox said it’s important that Ukraine holds elections even if they aren’t perfect.

“Nobody will blame Ukraine if not everything will be perfect,” Mr. Kox said in a May 16 interview with European Pravda. “Everybody will blame Ukraine if you do not organize elections.”

In July, Ukraine’s parliament extended the country’s martial law declaration through to Nov. 15, putting the country’s regular October timeline for a parliamentary election in doubt. But weeks later, Mr. Zelenskyy suggested the country could hold a wartime vote if there was enough international support.

In an Aug. 27 interview with Ukrainian media, Mr. Zelenskyy said he met with Sen. Lindsey Graham and discussed how to keep the Ukrainian elections running on schedule. Mr. Zelenskyy said such a wartime election would require a change of Ukrainian law, as well as additional financial support from the United States and other Western nations. Mr. Zelenskyy said he would favor wartime elections so long as funding support did not mean losing funding for Ukraine’s military.

“I will not hold elections on credit. I will not take money from weapons and allocate it to elections, either,” the Ukrainian president said. “This is provided for by law. But if you give me this financial support and if the parliamentarians understand that we need to do this, then let’s change the legislation quickly.”

Mr. Graham, in turn, said he was “very satisfied” with the talks with the Ukrainian president.

“I cannot think of a better symbol for Ukraine than to hold free and fair elections during the course of a war. Elections would not only be seen as an act of defiance against the Russian invasion, but an embrace of democracy and freedom,” Mr. Graham said in August.

Despite this talk of a wartime vote, the plan Mr. Zelenskyy described did not materialize before the October parliamentary elections.

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