Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Is Zelenskyy canceling elections?

One of the newest claims that I’ve seen going around the internet involves Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the upcoming elections in Ukraine. There are quite a few claims on the internet that Zelenskyy is canceling elections and fretting that this isn’t what Democracy looks like. Ironically, the complaints are mostly from people that supported Donald Trump’s 2021 insurrection and coup attempt, but they have a point. If Zelenskyy was really acting unilaterally to suspend elections, that would be problematic.

I was curious if the claims were true so I searched for confirmation. Initially, I became more skeptical because the only outlets I could find that corroborated the claim were Russian propaganda outlets like Tass and RT as well as the Hindustan Times from India. I didn’t consider any of these to be credible so I was prepared to call the myth busted.

Then I stumbled onto a video clip tweeted by Jane Adams, a House candidate from Las Vegas who is not to be confused with Jane Addams, the Nobel Prize-winning social worker of the early 1900s. Candidate Adams posted a video of President Zelenskyy in a BBC interview responding to the question of whether there will be elections in Ukraine next year.

“This is a global question,” Zelenskyy replies. “If we win, there will be. So there will be no wartime martial law. Elections should be held in peacetime according to the law, and that’s why this is so.”

Screenshot from Twitter/ILoveJaneAdams

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Even though the video is labeled as a BBC link and apparently came from a BBC interview with Zelenskyy, I could not find a matching clip on the BBC site. It could be from a recent BBC interview that is not yet available on the website, but the perspective between the two images is different even though the background and Zelenskyy’s clothes seem to be the same. An article based on the new interview does not mention elections. Still, I don’t doubt that we see Zelenskyy, but since he is not speaking English, we are at the mercy of the translators.

Let’s start with a little background on Ukrainian elections. The president of Ukraine is elected to a five-year term, Zelenskyy was elected in 2019. Therefore, he would be expected to face re-election on the last Sunday of March 2024. (Legislative elections are in October.)

In the video, Zelenskyy notes that “election should be held in peacetime according to the law.” This is so.

Under the Ukrainian constitution, if the term of the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, expires while there is martial law or a state of emergency, “its powers are extended until the day when the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine elected after the cancellation of the state of martial law or emergency convenes its first meeting of the first session.”

There is general agreement that Ukrainian law prohibits all elections while martial law is in place. This is not only true under the current government. The previous president, Petro Poroshenko, declared martial law in 2018 in the wake of the Sea of Azov incident between Ukraine and Russia. There was concern that this would impact elections in 2019, but ultimately the duration of martial law was brief enough that elections were unaffected.

This does not mean that Ukrainian democracy is in danger, however. To prevent abuse, the constitution also prohibits enacting constitutional amendments under martial law or in times of emergency powers.

In fact, thinking about the situation logically and historically, it seems more likely that a would-be dictator would declare martial law under false pretenses to hold on to power by canceling elections and stifling opposition parties. Coming from a period of dictatorship and Russian oppression, the Ukrainian constitution contains several countermeasures against strongmen seizing power including allowing the parliament to impeach a president for “state treason or other crime.”

So Zelenskyy is not ruling out elections, he’s saying that if the country is under martial law, as it has been since February 24, 2022, which is not coincidentally the day that Russia invaded, the law does not permit elections. That may not be the best way to handle the issue, but it is the method that is enshrined in Ukrainian law. And remember that the Ukrainian constitution cannot be amended to allow elections under martial law while the country is under martial law.

The prohibition does make sense. It would be difficult to hold elections with large parts of the country in Russian hands and the rest of it subject to Russian air and missile attacks. If such elections were held, would they be free, fair, and accurate? Could observers, either international or domestic, verify that elections were not fraudulent under such conditions? Could candidates even campaign effectively?

The Council of Europe has published a study on the issue which examines Ukrainian law and discusses the timetable of when elections can be held following the suspension of hostilities and the end of martial law. After the war, the Western democracies will undoubtedly push for speedy elections.

Some of the anti-Zelenskyy activists also point out that the Ukrainian president has also banned some political parties and combined national television channels into one platform. They usually fail to point out that this happened in March 2022 when Ukraine’s survival was still very much in doubt. They also fail to note that the channels and parties that were banned were pro-Russian. This action seems at least understandable if not totally justified under the circumstances of the existential threat of a Russian invasion.

Finally, I want to call something to your attention about Jane Adams’s link. In the video she posts, the voiceover at the beginning and end of the clip is clearly not the voice of a BBC anchor. It sounds to me like the narration is in Russian (maybe one of my readers can verify this). If that’s so, I wonder why an American congressional candidate is posting a video from a Russian source. (Although I really don’t have to wonder very hard.)

In the end, we don’t know whether Ukraine will hold elections next year. Maybe the war will be over by then. After last weekend’s thunder run by Yevgeny Prigozhin exposed Putin’s weakness, we can hope. Failing that, maybe the situation will be stable enough that Zelenskyy will suspend martial law in unoccupied and uncontested areas.

If people are truly concerned about Ukrainian democracy, the best way to preserve it is to pressure Russia to end the war. Without the Russian invasion, occupation, and continuing attacks there would be no rationale for continuing martial law. But as long as Russia threatens Ukraine’s existence, martial law will be needed.

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TRUMP CAUGHT ON TAPE: CNN now has a copy of Donald Trump’s conversation of classified documents that was recorded at Bedminster. You can listen to it here.

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