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28 Aug, 2023 21:55

Ukraine considers elections to boost Zelensky’s popularity – El Pais

The president’s supporters in both Kiev and Washington are reportedly concerned about the appearance of democracy
Ukraine considers elections to boost Zelensky’s popularity – El Pais

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky may call elections next year in order to shore up his democratic bona fides, several anonymous sources told El Pais on Monday. 

Ukraine is currently under martial law, meaning elections are prohibited, but Zelensky himself spoke about the possibility of a poll in a television interview on Sunday. “The logic is that if you are protecting democracy, you must also protect it during the war. And one way to protect it is elections,” he said.

Ruslan Stefanchuk, the president of the Rada (Ukraine's parliament), also hinted last month that an “update of the law would take place soon” because “democracy cannot stop.” The Zelensky ally, whose term expires in October with the rest of his parliamentary colleagues, acknowledged the message had been passed down from “Europe and others.

According to El Pais, this was a reference to Kiev’s American backers in the Republican and Democratic parties. A bipartisan contingent of US senators of Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Richard Blumenthal and Republican Lindsey Graham visited Kiev last week and emphasized that elections are “necessary for democracy.” Critics of Washington’s open-checkbook policy towards Ukraine apparently believe the country is “not so different from Russia” because it had abandoned the pretense of democracy in wartime.

Internal issues may also push Zelensky to call a vote, according to some Ukrainian analysts. Commentator Mark Savchuk told El Pais that the anti-corruption platform Zelensky ran on (which memorably catapulted his television alter-ego to political stardom in ‘Servant of the People’) has not become reality, a truth that is impossible to conceal from the average Ukrainian. 

The real purpose of holding elections in 2024 would be to give Zelensky the best possible position for negotiating to end the conflict with Russia, anonymous sources close to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry told the news outlet. Kiev’s counteroffensive, launched in June, is increasingly considered a dismal failure among its Western allies, having achieved minimal territorial gains despite significant personnel and equipment losses.

The outcome of any election is almost certainly a foregone conclusion, as Zelensky banned all opposition political parties less than a month into Russia’s military operation and consolidated all potentially adversarial media outlets into one state-backed platform. No potential challengers have come forward, and none are likely to, according to El Pais.

Despite this certainty, it is unclear how an election could fortify Zelensky’s appearance as a popular candidate. More than six million Ukrainians have fled the country, making vote-counting all but impossible, and some 700,000 are involved in defense-related tasks they cannot easily abandon to vote. Concerns about attacks on voting sites may also keep voters away. Zelensky himself acknowledged on Sunday that he has seen no plans to facilitate safe voting for those on the front lines.