Zelensky praised for avoiding ‘extremely dangerous’ move as war grinds on
President Volodymyr Zelensky is making the right choice by not holding presidential election next year, a Ukrainian national and commentator believes.
Aliona Hlivco, managing director at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, finds calls from the West urging the Ukrainian leader to hold elections “really strange”, given her nation is currently at war and trying to defend its borders and population.
Elections taking place in the country risk creating division among the leadership, distract politicians from their duties and endanger Ukrainian nationals when they head to the ballot, she argued.
Appearing on the Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast, Ms Hlivco said: “For us, and maybe because I was in politics, it’s very clear that during martial law the election in Ukraine is out of question, and is banned by the constitution.”
She added: “We knew we were meant to have presidential elections in 2024, but we are desperately trying to protect our borders and people are dying every day, energy infrastructure is targeted, we are losing children and men and women in this war, so the elections are actually the last thing on Ukrainians’ minds.”
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The commentator stressed this is a widespread thought among Ukrainians, including soldiers on the frontline – one of which is her brother.
She said: “The consensus is along the line that it is ridiculous to hold the elections right now and it’s not just ridiculous, it is extremely dangerous.”
Moreover, Ms Hlivco said to have gathered from her research that the majority of Ukrainians “don’t feel like the government is losing its legitimacy”, as it is very clear to most the nation “need to stay mobilised”.
Mr Zelensky was elected with 73 percent of the votes in April 2019. According to the Ukrainian constitution, under normal circumstances his country would need to have a say about his mandate and future in office next spring.
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Earlier this week, Mr Zelensky said in his daily address to his nation that “now is the time of defence, the time of battle, on which the fate of the state and people depends”. Seemingly ruling out elections next year, he added: “I believe that now is not the (right) time for elections.”
Among the difficulties that would arise by holding a vote next year, Ms Hlivco mentioned a loss of focus among the political elite.
She said: “There is a big fear among the Ukrainian population that this division that the election will inevitably bring will cause separation in unity among the elites, the loss of focus, loss of diplomatic efforts to keep advocating for more weapons, more aid, protect energy infrastructure. It will simply divert attention and energy resources of those people who are meant to be leading the war towards petty politics.”
Infighting in Kyiv, she added, would simply cause politicians to “lose focus”.
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To hold fair elections, Ukraine would need, among other challenges, to find a way to gather the votes of soldiers in the trenches and decide how to hold a ballot in the territories currently occupied by Russia.
She said: “How is Ukraine meant to hold elections, how do we account for occupied territories, how representative is that going to be? How do we hold elections in the area near the frontlines, where Ukrainians will be targeted and shelled as soon as they gather around the voting area?”
Ms Hlivco added there have been talks to spread the elections over several weeks to get people to reach the polling stations at staggered times. However, both international observers needed to evaluate the fairness of the vote as well as civilians would remain at risk of being targeted by Russian missile strikes and drones.
While Ukraine is unlikely to hold presidential elections in 2024, Russia is set to do so in March. But the commentator slammed as “ridiculous” the argument Vladimir Putin is allowing the democratic process to take place while Mr Zelensky isn’t, as she noted the conflict isn’t taking place on Russian territories and civilians gathering aren’t in immediate danger of being targeted by the enemy’s fire.
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