Elections and full-scale war are incompatible. Holding elections during a full-scale war is extremely dangerous. It can lead to the loss of legitimacy for both the electoral process and elected bodies, potentially undermining the state as a whole. During a full-scale war, a state cannot guarantee an environment where electoral process participants can freely and fully express their views and will, where military and voters abroad can meaningfully participate, and where a competitive and vibrant political environment exists, especially against the backdrop of narrowing rights and freedoms under martial law.

Ukraine is a democratic state with a vibrant civil society that fought for its right to vote and to influence decision-making. Ukraine’s society has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to hold peaceful protests, oppose election fraudsters, and curb past oppressive governments’ attempts to build autocracy at home. We did so through the Orange Revolution (2004) and the Revolution of Dignity (2013-2014). After 2014, national elections in Ukraine were deemed democratic, free, and fair by domestic and international observation missions. It is the citizens of Ukraine that are the basis of its resistance to external threats and resistance to the full-scale Russian invasion.

Ukrainian society is sensitive to double standards. It has fought and is still fighting for its beliefs. The price of this struggle is the lives of both military and civilians. Lives that we lose every day. Without pauses or rest. Ukrainians cannot be accused of fear or unwillingness to take responsibility for the fate of their country. Therefore, our true partners must now hear the opinions of its citizens.

Elections cannot be held during war because:

  • Elections alone do not equal democracy; voting for the sake of voting is not a measure of a nation’s democracy. If competitive political competition cannot be assured during war, then elections will certainly not be free. Elections are not just about a day of voting, instead, they involve loud and bitter arguments between different camps about the best program for a country’s development. Such conversations can be extremely heated and frank, but this is the only way to ensure a true democratic process. In Russia and Belarus, voting is formally taking place, and some operational exercises carried out by these two have even been called “elections” by international observation missions in the past, but there is no democracy there. This process of decay has been slow, yet its undeniable components are the absence of choices and the imitation of voting. Double standards and adjustable values in the way these regimes were viewed and approached have actually prompted them to act with impunity and ferocity. This is a lesson that we must learn.
  • It is prohibited to hold elections under martial law. Article 83(4) of the Constitution of Ukraine explicitly bans the tenure termination for the Ukrainian members of parliament (MPs) while martial law is in effect and extends the Parliament’s authority until a new assembly is elected after the war. Our Constitution states: “In the event that the term of authority of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine expires while martial law or a state of emergency is in effect, its authority is extended until the day of the first meeting of the first session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, elected after the cancellation of martial law or of the state of emergency.” Moreover, our laws, which shall have full legitimacy and must be observed by all, and not selectively, explicitly prohibit holding any elections, including presidential ones, in wartime. Under our laws, all authorities have full authority and legitimacy to continue their work and be as united as possible in this difficult period for our nation. These legal principles fully align with principles followed by other democratic nations. Any amendments to legislation aimed at making wartime elections formally “legal” would contradict the spirit of the Constitution and international standards.
  • Holding elections during war can undermine national unity. If elections are held during wartime, we can anticipate a massive disinformation campaign spread by Russians in Ukraine and around the world, calling into question the credibility of election administrators and contenders.  It would aim to delegitimize the process and its outcomes. Society would become split around the fact that real heroes are fighting and risking their lives in a time of war, while politicians are fighting one another in a cynical power struggle. Members of the military and volunteers would likely not be able to participate in the process as voters and candidates given that they are at the moment defending us. This might cause internal confrontations and disagreements. Ukrainian citizens living abroad may be unable to fully exercise their right to vote or stand in elections. This will detract from their ability to make a meaningful contribution to Ukraine’s post-war recovery and growth and can catalyze a split between those who are abroad and in Ukraine.
  • Martial law, by design, restricts rights and freedoms, while elections require their expansion and protection. These two modes are incompatible. According to Article 64 of the Constitution of Ukraine, certain restrictions on rights and freedoms may be imposed under martial law, making it impossible to fully ensure freedom of speech and press during the war, a prerequisite for free and fair elections. In wartime, the entire system of state power, local self-government, and society should be focused on security and defense, and this requires resources: people, finances, and time for preparation. The main resource in war is the total mobilization of citizens and trust between the state and the public. The common interest is victory, and political battles should be postponed until peacetime. In times of war, the state and society have one priority – to survive and resist the inhumane Russian regime.
  • Ukraine will face extreme security and operational challenges that cannot be addressed through any legislative amendments: destroyed infrastructure; the virtual impossibility of guaranteeing full security of all electoral process participants; the need to ensure the right to vote for more than seven million citizens displaced abroad and within the country and more than one million military personnel; complexity of involving the police, part of Ukraine’s Defense Forces, in safeguarding elections in wartime, to mention just a few. Since ~20% of our country's territory is occupied or is a place of hostilities, another ~20% is within immediate reach of artillery, and with missiles and drones regularly launched throughout the country, this will create unprecedented and unjustified risks. Ukraine, a state where human life and health are defined as the highest social values, cannot risk the lives of millions of its citizens when Russia is deliberately launching missile attacks and brutally killing civilians across the country. A possible massive missile attack on the day of voting would make it impossible for citizens to access polling stations and ultimately disrupt the process. The inability to guarantee the final outcome of the elections is a convenient tool for political pressure by the aggressor state. We should also not forget about the inability of people with disabilities, including veterans who were disabled during the war, to cast their votes in conditions of this kind.
  • Ukrainians support extending the term of office of elected authorities until the end of the war. A number of recent nationally representative surveys clearly indicate that the people of Ukraine support extending the term of the parliament, despite current dissatisfaction with this and other institutions, and support holding elections after the war ends.

Post-war elections in Ukraine will be costly due to the consequences of the Russian war. In wartime, however, such costs are unjustified and cynical, as Ukraine is still fighting for its existence and requires more weapons and ammunition, hospital equipment, and humanitarian aid.

No doubt, elections in Ukraine should take place – but only after the war is over and Ukraine has won, and security and other conditions are in place to organize such elections in a free, fair, democratic and accessible manner. Moreover, the presidential and parliamentary elections should be separated in time, otherwise we will not even have a formal system of checks and balances between the branches of government. Parliamentary elections should not become the appendix of a full-fledged presidential election process, while the election of the president should be a conscious vote.

In view of the above, to ensure genuine democracy in Ukraine further advanced, we call for:

  • The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine – not to take such a dangerous and ill-advised step as holding elections during the war, but instead, to urgently launch full-fledged expert work on overcoming challenges of post-war elections; to develop the necessary draft laws in advance based on an inclusive process; and, to ensure the principle of legal certainty. In this way, Ukraine can reaffirm its deep commitment to democracy, including by resuming the broader electoral reform process that is currently on hold;
  • Political parties – to work on democratization and development of their own organizations; not to polarize public sentiment for political purposes; and, to focus on reforms and strategies to restore post-war Ukraine as a democratic and developed modern state;
  • Ukraine’s international partners – to increase comprehensive support in the military, humanitarian and economic sectors so that the war ends in the shortest possible time with Ukraine’s victory, thus enabling Ukraine to conduct truly democratic elections.

We invite everyone interested to publicly support this statement and stop manipulations around the topic of holding elections in Ukraine during the war.

To sign this statement, please fill out the form at the link: https://forms.gle/ifQ8yzz7pvvGEEro6


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