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Ukrainians are fighting to defend their country’s sovereignty and, ostensibly at least, democracy. That’s why the US and Europe are supporting Ukrainians’ efforts to defeat Russia.
From the Western point of view, it would make sense, then, for Ukraine to hold elections so that voters can either replace or demonstrate their continued support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose five-year term ends in March next year.
When American and European diplomats bring up the issue, however, the Ukrainians are baffled, according to Visegrad Insight, a Polish think tank. When Russia invaded in February 2022, Zelenskyy declared martial law, which suspended voting – arguably for good reasons.
Most Ukrainians feel that an election would be impossible now. Nobody will vote against Zelenskyy, a former comedian who has become a symbol of stalwart resistance to violence and tyranny. The logistics of holding a vote also appear extremely difficult. Millions of Ukrainians are displaced or have fled elsewhere in Europe to avoid the fighting, living in Russian-occupied territory where voting would be difficult to conduct (Russia has held elections in these regions, but Ukrainians don’t take them seriously), or fighting the Russians on the front.
Ukrainian officials were also concerned that Russia could easily disrupt or manipulate the vote, Foreign Policy wrote. Why wouldn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, order a devastating air attack to commence as soon as voting starts, and distract the Ukrainians?
Sixty-four percent of Ukrainians don’t support holding elections in wartime, reported Euromaidan Press, a Ukrainian outlet, citing a Razumkov Center poll. “The first step is victory,” Serhiy Prytula, a popular opposition leader who runs a charity that assists the Ukrainian military, told the New York Times. “The second step is everything else.”
Still, American politicians like US Senator Lindsey Graham and Europeans like Tiny Kox, a Dutchman who serves as the president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, have argued that Ukraine must hold elections at some point soon, the Financial Times wrote. Their logic is that Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian politicians must practice democracy – or otherwise what is the point of fighting in the first place. These advocates for a vote argue that Israel has been holding elections for the last 30 years despite waves of war and violence in that time, Le Monde added.
Zelenskyy has said he would consider holding polls if the West helps, Reuters noted. He obviously couldn’t reject Graham and Kox outright. Western support is absolutely vital to Ukraine’s capacity to fight the Russian military.
Meanwhile, Russia will also hold elections in March, the Kyiv Post reported.
Nobody outside Russia, of course, thinks they will demonstrate anything other than Putin’s autocratic power.
Many hope for much more from Ukraine.