Canada says it is ready to support Ukraine, “with other international partners”, in the organization of its next presidential election, which should in theory be held in March 2024, told Devoir the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
An offer for aid which will however depend “on the decision of the government” of Volodymyr Zelensky to hold these elections provided for by the Ukrainian Constitution. And this, in a climate that is complex to say the least where the defense of democracy, which is currently being played out on the battlefield, should also go through the ballot box, believe several observers.
Will vote, will not vote? The question has still not been resolved by the Ukrainian president, who, at the beginning of September, said he was ready to send his country to the polls, admitting at the same time that “security” obstacles risked compromising both the holding and the validity of the vote.
“For us, the main thing is not to organize elections, but to ensure that these elections are recognized by the world”, a- he said at the annual Yalta European Strategy conference, held in Kiev. “Because we are a democratic country. This is what we are fighting for. »
The war of invasion launched in February 2022 by the autocratic Russian regime of Vladimir Putin against the former Soviet republic has not only disrupted the daily lives of millions of Ukrainians. It also compromised the electoral calendar, which provides for legislative elections next October followed by a presidential vote in March. Two votes still hypothetical, due to the adoption of martial law, which temporarily suspends the holding of elections in a Ukraine at war. But the idea of these ballots is nevertheless kept alive by some defenders of democracy in the world.
This is the case of Tiny Kox, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Ukraine is one of the members. In an interview from last May, he recalled that “without elections, democracy cannot function properly” and stressed that Kiev should not be dictated by “the Russian aggressor if and when it should hold its elections.” He said the Ukrainian parliament and government had the option of temporarily suspending martial law to hold a vote, but agreed that “these elections, if they [were] held, would be extremely difficult.”
“It’s obvious,” mentioned in an interview with DevoirMaksym Yakovlyev, director of the Department of International Relations at the Mohyla Academy in kyiv, the Ukrainian national university, joined in the capital of the former Soviet republic. “And the majority of Ukrainians understand that it is impossible to hold elections right now, during a war, both for security reasons, but also because it would be impossible to have a real election campaign. »
The obstacles are numerous. Since the start of the conflict, nearly 8 million Ukrainians have taken the path of exile and are currently living abroad, in countries where Kiev does not necessarily have the necessary infrastructure to hold remote votes. Nearly 20% of Ukraine's territory has been placed under Russian occupation, jeopardizing access to the ballot box for the thousands of people who still live there.
Not to mention that the hundreds of thousands of soldiers currently fighting on the front line to defend Ukrainian democracy could paradoxically be excluded from the electoral process, due to the difficulties of bringing them closer to polling stations, but also to ensure the security of possible independent international observers in these tense areas.
“In the current climate of fear, trying to organize elections would be counterproductive,” says political scientist specializing in Ukraine Oxana Shevel from the Tufts University, Massachusetts. “Instead of strengthening democracy, it would, above all, by inevitably casting doubt on the validity of any electoral results, destabilize Ukrainian democracy at a precarious moment in its history. »
Despite this unfavorable context, kyiv remains ambivalent in the face of elections, even imperfect, but which could easily ensure the re-election of Volodymyr Zelensky. His popularity is high, more than a year after the start of the conflict, but his support also threatens to weaken if the war were to drag on and if the occupied territories were not recaptured, as desired by the counter-offensive. launched this summer.
The Ukrainian government also maintains an open conversation with the United States, but also Canada and other Western countries, on possible aid and contribution for the holding of these elections, as a “necessity” for Volodymyr Zelensky to remind his partners international institutions its “attachment” to the democracy for which Ukraine is fighting, underlines to Devoir a diplomatic source who nevertheless speaks of electoral projects with a predictable destiny. For now.
This is because beyond the security and reliability of the vote, the financial question also remains a major obstacle: in peacetime, Kiev needs 180 million Canadian dollars to organize an election. A sum which, in times of war, could be used to acquire weapons rather than to seek to maintain the legitimacy of a government. Even if the population aspires to change.
A poll conducted last May and June by the International Institute of Sociology in kyiv found that 69 percent of Ukrainians want a new parliament…after the war, however. Then, 47% want a new government, while 23% would like another president.
“The Ukrainian people do not expect to have elections, neither in October nor next year,” says Maksym Yakovlyev. “The running joke right now is that if this were to happen, it would make us like the Russians with their fake referendums and fake elections. They don't care about the electoral process, while we have a good idea of its value and, above all, of how to respect it. »
More than 90% of Ukrainians defend the democratic regime in their country and want a functional democracy, recalls Oxana Shevel. “The sooner Ukraine can repel Russian aggression, the sooner elections can take place,” she said, citing, long before support for holding wartime elections, the need instead for “ increased Western military aid to Ukraine” to bring the country closer to “free and legitimate elections.”