Novosti and RT Balkan Faux Concern Over Democracy in Ukraine


Original article (in Serbian) was published on 21/5/2024; Author: Marija Vučić

“Kyiv is officially ruled by a usurper”—this is the narrative propagated by Russian and pro-Russian media across Europe and in Serbia. The web portal RT Balkan has been questioning the legitimacy of Volodymyr Zelensky as president, citing the expiration of his mandate on May 21 and the absence of new elections. In their attempt to portray Zelensky as having seized power, they reference constitutional provisions which ultimately do not substantiate their claims. Significantly, they omit a crucial detail: since the onset of the war, Ukraine has been under a state of emergency, during which the law forbids holding any elections, including presidential ones.

The text published yesterday on RT Balkan, a web portal owned by the Russian state, claims that Zelensky “spit on the Constitution” and that he does not want to give up power even though his mandate expired on May 21. One of the reasons that he is allegedly afraid of the election, this website speculates, is the “extremely low rating”.

As the main argument, they cite Article 83 of the Ukrainian Constitution:

“The opposition (or what is left of it) points out that the Constitution of Ukraine has Article 83, which clearly states that in a state of emergency, the mandate is automatically extended only to the Rada (parliament), but there is no mention of the president.” This text was also shared by Vecernje Novosti.

They also quote Article 103 of the Constitution about the mandate of the president lasting five years, and that’s basically all of the argumentation that you can find in the original text.

But what are they omitting?

The key thing – with the decree made on February 24, 2022, at the beginning of the Russian aggression, Zelensky declared a state of emergency, which entered into force the so-called Law on the Legal Regime of the State of Emergency.

States activate such laws only in exceptional situations such as war or some other major threat to the population. In order to protect the safety or health of citizens, they temporarily suspend or limit certain activities, civil rights and democratic procedures that are taken for granted in times of “peace”, such as free movement or elections.

When it comes to the Ukrainian Law on the Legal Regime of the State of Emergency, Article 19 is relevant to the issue of elections:

“During the state of emergency, it is prohibited (…) to hold elections for the President of Ukraine, as well as elections for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and local self-government bodies,” this article states. It also prohibits changing the Constitution, holding referendums, organizing strikes, mass gatherings and actions during the state of emergency.

There is also a broad political consensus on this issue in Ukraine – at the end of the year, government and opposition MPs signed a memorandum agreeing, among other things, that there will be no elections.

“We also agree that future free and fair elections (parliamentary, presidential) should be held after the war and the repeal of the Law on the Legal Regime of Emergency, with enough time to prepare for the elections (at least six months after the repeal of the Law)”, the document states.

List of Reasons

The intelligence services there knew as early as February that Russian propaganda efforts would be focused on the question of the legitimacy of the Ukrainian president in these weeks.

At that time, it was announced on the website of the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, within the Ministry of Culture, that “the enemy is doing everything to make Ukrainians doubt the legitimacy of the central government after May 20, and therefore the legitimacy of its decisions.” Back then, a list of reasons why postponing the election was necessary was given as a precaution.

In addition to the aforementioned legal basis and political consensus, the Center also cites the issue of security, which no one could guarantee to voters on that day.

“You don’t have to be a military expert to understand that crowds of people at polling stations can become a target for the enemy. It is impossible to keep the addresses of tens of thousands of polling stations a secret,” it states and adds that it is not possible to ensure that voting takes place exclusively in places that can serve as shelters made to withstand the impact of drones or missiles.

It is not even possible to provide fair conditions for any campaign, given that the war stopped all election processes and political life was thrown out of its usual rhythm. The legitimacy of such elections would be further questioned by the fact that, as they state, it is not possible to determine the number of citizens in that territory – several million people have left Ukraine, and it would not be possible to provide voting even to soldiers active on the front lines.

In the end, money would also be an obstacle – according to the assessment of the Central Election Commission, which this Center refers to, the presidential and parliamentary elections would cost around 9 billion Ukrainian hryvnias or more than 200 million euros.

“There is no need to explain that today the Ukrainian budget has much more priority expenditure related to defense financing and support for the most vulnerable categories of the population,” the Center states.

They add that the Russians “did not start worrying about our democracy for nothing.”

“Russian propaganda hopes to destroy our unity from the inside by turning Ukrainians against the president, and ideally they would incite a rebellion against the “usurper Zelensky” in order to use it on the front. However (…) according to sociological research, the absolute majority of citizens believe that war is not the time to call elections,” their website states.

The research they refer to was conducted by the Kyiv International Sociological Institute last fall on about 2,000 respondents, and about 80 percent said that elections should be held after the war.

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