In a lengthy interview on Ukrainian TV, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would like to hold elections in 2024 – but he will need help for that to become a reality.
Calls for elections at the end of his official term as president are rising among Kyiv’s allies, particularly among US Senators.
Prominent American lawmakers travelled to the Ukraine capital on August 23, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who commended Kyiv’s efforts in countering Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Graham also emphasised that Ukraine should demonstrate its democratic credentials by conducting elections, even during times of conflict.
“We need an election in Ukraine next year. I want to see this country have a free and fair election, even while it is under assault,” he said.
Just returned from a very successful and important visit to Ukraine with Senators Blumenthal and Warren. Eighteen months after the invasion, Ukraine is on the offense recapturing land that was illegally seized by Russia, NATO has increased in size, the Russian economy is in…
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 25, 2023
Presidential elections are due to be held in Ukraine on March 31, 2024, according to the constitution but the Russian “special military operation” has caused Kyiv to declare martial law.
Due to this, elections cannot be conducted at present although the status of martial law needs to be renewed every 90 days, with its current extension set to expire on November 15.
But even if Ukraine does hold elections, it will need money to do so. Zelenskyy said that holding a national vote in peacetime costs 5 billion hryvnia (€125 million) and it was not clear how much such would cost during times of conflict.
“I don’t know how much is needed in wartime,” Zelenskyy said. “So I told him [Graham] that if the US and Europe provide financial support …”
He added: “I will not take money from weapons and give it to elections. And this is stipulated by the law.”
He told Graham that election observers would need to be present in the trenches and at the front, “So that we have legitimate elections for us and for the whole world.
“They [Ukrainian troops] are defending this democracy today, and not to give them this opportunity because of war – that is unfair. I was against the elections only because of this.”
Kyiv would also require assistance in establishing expanded voting access for its millions of citizens residing abroad, particularly the refugees in the European Union, he added.
“There is a way out,” he said. “I am ready for it.”
In the interview, Zelenskyy also addressed the deep-rooted problem of corruption in his country.
He has said he wants to equate corruption during the war with treason and a bill pertaining to that will soon be brought forward in parliament.
“The legislature will be offered my proposals on equating corruption during wartime with treason. I understand that such a weapon can’t work permanently in the public sphere, but in wartime, I think it will help,” he said.
“We are developing a democratic society. And it’s very important not to turn the screws.”
Zelenskyy said he believes that such a law will become a “serious tool for making people not even think” of embezzling public funds.
“But this is not a shooting, this is not Stalinism. It’s simply this: If there is evidence, the person should be behind bars,” he said.
About the possibility of corrupt individuals within his own circle, Zelenskyy said he was ready to fire anyone found guilty.
“I don’t have ‘my own’ or ‘not my own.’ There is an honest person or a dishonest person. If there is evidence that a person is dishonest, I will fire such a person. I don’t have any internal issues with this.”