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The War Against Democracy, - Petro Oleshchuk


The arguments against holding elections during wartime are more than convincing, and the security component is at the top of the list. Petro Oleshchuk, an expert at the United Ukraine think tank, writes about this in his article for The Gaze. The text of the article can be found below.


Elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine are due in the fall of 2023 and the spring of 2024. The former will not happen within the constitutional timeframe, and the latter is in doubt due to the martial law that has been in place in Ukraine since February 24, 2022, when the country was subjected to a full-scale invasion by Russia. Since then, there has been a war, which is still impossible to predict. According to Ukrainian law, martial law excludes any elections.


At the same time, there have been recent demands for elections shortly, both within Ukraine and from Western partners. In particular, during his visit to Ukraine in August 2023, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that Ukraine should hold elections even during the war as a democratic state.


In general, the arguments of those in favor of holding the elections boil down to the following: Ukraine is a democracy, and it must hold elections within the timeframe provided by law regardless of the war. Failure to hold elections calls into question Ukraine's democracy and, therefore, the demands for assistance from other democratic states. Additionally, elections are the only ground for the legitimacy of the government. These arguments may be fair, but one shouldn’t ignore many factors against holding elections during wartime.


Why Elections Are Impossible Now?

Elections and a full-scale war are incompatible. Holding elections during wartime is dangerous and will lead to the process and the elected bodies losing legitimacy, likely resulting in a significant destabilization of the state. Transparency International Ukraine and more than 100 Ukrainian civil society organizations expressed this opinion in a joint statement published in September 2023. The statement notes that the key challenges are related to the free formation of political will in the active phase of the war, the inability to ensure the full participation of the military and voters abroad, and the lack of political competition stemming from the narrowing of rights and freedoms during martial law.


As noted in the statement, Ukraine cannot hold elections during wartime for several reasons. First, elections do not equal democracy, and the formal act of voting is not an unconditional confirmation of the democratic nature of the regime; the law prohibits holding elections during martial law. Article 83(4) of the Constitution of Ukraine explicitly prohibits the termination of the parliament and automatically extends it until a new convocation is elected after the war.


Secondly, holding elections in times of war can undermine national unity. As Ukrainian citizens living abroad can’t exercise their right to vote or become candidates and contribute to the development program of post-war Ukraine, elections would provoke polarization between refugees and locals.


Furthermore, martial law legally restricts rights and freedoms. Elections, on the other hand, require their expansion and protection. Finally, a possible massive missile attack on election day would make it impossible for citizens to access polling stations and disrupt the process. We should also remember the inability of people with disabilities, including veterans who were disabled during the war, to cast their votes in such conditions. Ultimately, Ukrainians support elected authorities staying in office until the war ends.


So What to Do Next?

As we can see, the arguments against holding elections during wartime are more than convincing, and the security component is at the top of the list. The terrorist nature of Russia's war against Ukraine and the lack of guaranteed protection of Ukraine's territory do not allow for the opening of polling stations anywhere in Ukraine, as they would be an excellent target for Russian missiles. Elections that endanger their citizens cannot be called democratic.


Of course, one can appeal to the practice of voting through alternative methods. For example, via electronic voting or voting by mail. However, these methods also have flaws. Elections constitute a formal vote count, and the citizens must perceive it as legitimate. As the practice of postal voting shows, such methods often give rise to questioning the results even in countries with long-standing democratic traditions. As for electronic voting, this immediately brings the issue of cybersecurity to the forefront, especially in the context of Russia's interference in the elections of several democratic states over the past decade.


There is no perfect answer. Ukraine, as a democratic state, will have to hold elections in the relatively near future, although the war may continue indefinitely. There may be the need to develop procedures for holding elections during wartime. However, it should come with certain conditions. First, there needs to be a significant increase in the security of the Ukrainian sky and the effectiveness of Ukrainian air defense systems. Second, all Ukrainian citizens must be able to participate in the electoral process. Thirdly, there needs to be an election format that will not allow questioning of its legitimacy.


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Returning to the question of the legitimacy of the government, holding elections that are not perceived as fair and democratic by the entire society may cause more damage to the legitimacy of the government and state institutions than postponing elections for reasons that are clear and accessible to every citizen. Ukrainians understand why the elections are postponed, and that it is the right decision until the war ends. However, if Ukraine decides to hold elections, they will have to be fair, which is unlikely to be possible today.


Source: "The Gaze"


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