Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team now hopes to hold presidential elections in early 2024, preceded by amending legislation (as it currently prohibits elections during martial law) and replacing some members of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Bankova [the street where the Presidential administration is located] has finally decided to try and hold the vote, despite the ongoing war. Zelenskyy’s team dared to take this step due to fears that otherwise his legitimacy would be called into question.
According to information obtained by NV from several sources, the President’s Office is serious about holding the entire voting process in the spring of 2024 and plans to reboot the CEC for this. At the same time, representatives of the presidential majority in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, are already working on amending the legislation to allow residents of the frontline areas to perform their civic duty.
Real steps towards elections
The President’s Office could not decide whether to hold elections in 2024 for a long time: due to security and financial factors, Zelenskyy’s administration was hesitant.
In his recent interview with Sky TG24, the president said that if the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers find answers to the challenges of holding the vote in wartime, it would be possible to hold it even during martial law. But at the same time, Zelenskyy noted that it is necessary to solve problems of enabling all Ukrainian citizens to express their will, whether they are right next to the battlefields or are living abroad as refugees.
Although there are even more issues with organizing the election process. As NV previously reported, this includes updating the voter rolls, increasing the number of polling stations overseas, and organizing a safe voting procedure in frontline territories.
Both the CEC and the parliamentary Committee on Local Governance and Development are now looking for answers to all these problematic issues. The latter has recently developed a draft bill “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine regarding the organization and holding of elections/referendums or the organization of voting by citizens of Ukraine in elections/referendums in certain territories.” The text refers specifically to areas immediately adjacent to the front line.
NV received the document from sources in the Verkhovna Rada. The very fact of its development proves that the president’s team is really preparing for the elections.
According to the draft bill, the legislators offer to establish a temporary special commission (TSC) that will determine whether to hold elections in a particular territory.
The draft bill stipulates that no later than the second day after its establishment, such a TSC sends requests to the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the National Police, the SBU security service, the National Bank of Ukraine, central executive bodies, and other institutions (including the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting), for them to provide information to the CEC whether it is possible to hold elections in certain areas. And it is the TSC that must approve the final conclusion.
At the same time, the draft bill does not clearly explain what is meant by the term “certain area.”
“An interesting question: why it is necessary to create a TSC if the relevant parliamentary committee can easily consider these submissions. The answer is simple: the President’s Office can appoint its own people to the temporary commission who will determine which territories to exclude from the election procedure,” NV’s parliamentary source explained.
“The parliamentary committee isn’t very obedient, so it will neither allow such conclusions nor amendments to the law on martial law regarding the holding of elections.”
This lawmaker explained the committee’s “disobedience” by the fact that it includes associates of the former speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Razumkov, who became a political opponent to Zelenskyy and Bankova even before the war.
According to the document, for a territory to be recognized as one where it is impossible to hold elections, it must meet at least one of certain criteria. In particular, it should be de-occupied or to have been affected by the Russian armed forces during hostilities; or belong to the regions bordering Russia or Belarus, which have suffered from enemy shelling for the past six months, resulting in civilians were killed and/or injured; or a restricted access regime has been introduced there, particularly due to landmine hazard.
“Everything is spelled out in such a way that any territorial community can be excluded from the elections,” said NV’s source.
When creating a list of voting regions, this will probably allow Bankova to focus on sociology regarding the support of the sitting head of state.
The draft bill also allows internally displaced persons and voters from those districts in which it was decided not to hold elections to vote in other places.
“They can change the place of voting once without changing the electoral address and registration,” the source told NV.
Only a draft?
Alina Zahoruiko, member of the ruling Servant of the People parliamentary faction and First Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Local Governance and Development, explained that the document received by NV is only a first draft.
“This is the concept we offered in the form of a comparative table of the draft bill,” Zahoruiko said.
“The draft is still very raw and will definitely be amended. The mechanism of the TSC’s establishment will also be subject to discussion in the parliament as not everyone likes it. But the commission won’t make any decision. It only collects information, analyzes it, and forms an offer, based on which the Verkhovna Rada makes a decision.”
A top Cabinet official noted off the record that the TSC concept needs to be refined.
“Perhaps it’s better that the Cabinet of Ministers should determine it,” he said.
As for voting abroad, the President’s Office has an idea to conduct it through the Diia mobile app [e-governance app], which will help avoid technical problems associated with the establishment of numerous polling stations.
NV contacted Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister for a comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
The lawmakers currently have no solutions on allowing people in uniform to vote, Zahoruiko noted.
“It used to be like this: a polling station was established at a [military] training ground, and the military voted,” she said.
“But now there are a million people, and we can’t send them all to vote. Military personnel have the right to run for office. But another question is that if one of them wants to run for office, whether he will be able to leave his position and campaign on equal rights. It’s currently impossible to ensure such equality.”
To prevent the president from becoming illegitimate
The described problems do not diminish the Presidential administration’s determination.
“We actually already have an illegitimate parliament and an illegitimate Cabinet of Ministers. And then we’ll also have an illegitimate president,” a source in the President’s Office explained Bankova’s logic in this matter. The parliamentary elections in Ukraine were supposed to be held in 2023 but were postponed for the duration of martial law.
“Both external and internal forces will definitely be used,” he said, adding that Bankova is not very concerned about the elections to the Verkhovna Rada yet.
He added there is also some pressure from the West.
One of the top officials of the Cabinet of Ministers explained to NV that a certain legal vacuum may really appear in the matter with the head of state. After all, according to Article 108 of the Constitution, the president shall exercise his powers until the newly elected head of the country assumes office. And the presidential term is clearly stated to be five years. The extension of the powers of a sitting president during martial law is only stated in a relevant law — not in the Constitution.
“So far, everyone is thinking about what to do with this [legitimacy] vacuum,” one of the leaders of the ruling Servant of the People party explained.
“An appeal to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) is a very likely option, but the latter will take a long time to respond. Meanwhile, the Verkhovna Rada should vote on the next presidential elections on Dec. 21 or Dec. 22. We have no reason not to vote on this issue.”
According to former CEC Deputy Head Andriy Mahera, an appeal to the CCU would really be the best way out of the situation.
“It’s an exaggeration that the CCU will consider the relevant issue for a long time,” he said.
“On the contrary, it can unite all judges. I think they could give a solution in a week or two. It would be an official position, and no one would oppose it. It would be an opportunity for the authorities to hide behind it.”
Mahera reiterates that Part 4 of Article 83 of the Constitution states: if the Verkhovna Rada’s term of office expires during martial law, its powers shall be extended until the beginning of the first session of the parliament elected after the abolition of martial law. And this provision can be applied to all other types of elections. Therefore, “don’t interpret literally that five years pass, and the president is illegitimate,” Mahera believes.
A European diplomat told NV off the record that when they say that the West is putting pressure on official Kyiv to hold elections, it is only about a small group of U.S. Republican lawmakers.
“The European governments’ position is that elections should be held after the war. But at the same time, we’ll understand that if Ukraine says that it’s organizing elections to show that it belongs to democratic countries, we won’t interfere,” the diplomat added.
At the same time, the source from Bankova noted that the fate of the elections will also depend on how the society gets through the winter period and possible Russian attacks on energy infrastructure.
Rebooting the electoral commission
Another problem that Bankova wants to solve is rebooting the CEC. After all, associates of former Head of the President’s Office Andriy Bohdan are still serving there.
“They must be replaced,” said the source in the parliament.
However, 300 lawmakers must approve a complete reboot, and this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, Bankova is considering a partial renewal of the CEC composition with a possible replacement of its chairman.
First, this concerns five or six CEC members, including the chair, Oleh Didenko. But these people must be persuaded to resign voluntarily.
Alla Basalaieva, head of the State Audit Service, is the most likely candidate for the new CEC head.
“She’s responsible for the election track. The president trusts her, and she attends all election [-related] meetings,” said a lawmaker from the Servant of the People faction.
But, according to other NV sources, Basalaieva does not want the position.
The official herself told NV that she plans to focus on exercising her powers in the State Audit Service.
“As for offers to head the CEC, I didn’t receive them,” she added.
NV also failed to find out the president’s opinion regarding the presidential elections in 2024: Zelenskyy’s spokesman Serhiy Nikiforov did not comment on the relevant question from NV.
Meanwhile, former President’s Office advisor, Oleksiy Arestovych, has recently announced his intention to run for president. Maybe he knows that a decision was finally made?
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine