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Snap Election in Ukraine: This Fall or in 2023? What Zelenskyy and Opposition May Undertake
5 August, 2021
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President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, in Kyiv, October 20, 2020 Photo: UNIAN / Andriy Krymskyi

The possibility of early elections this fall is increasingly being discussed in the political establishment.

On the one hand, all opposition forces who want to break down the monopoly of power and enter the negotiations with Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the formation of a coalition and government are interested in this.

On the other hand, “servants” went on vacation feeling a tense relationship with the President. The reason is the failure to pass some of Zelenskyy’s initiatives. This again reignited among the members of the presidential faction talk about the possible early dissolution of the Rada.

Moreover, the authorities are facing the so-called problem-2023. In the fall of 2023, according to one of the rules of the Constitution, the next general election should take place. And half a year later - in March 2024 - it’s time for the presidential. Zelenskyy's team would like to change the order that would benefit from the point of view of political technologies. A conflict was found with another norm of the Constitution that gives deputies five years of authority, so the elections should take place in 2024.

So when should Ukraine expect the next election: in 2023, 2024 or this fall? Let’s take a closer look.

"Shashlik team-building" called off

This parliamentary session ended for Servant of the People MPs with an unpleasant moment. A big meeting with the leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was planned. "Shashlik teambuilding", as one of the "servants" called it jokingly.

In fact, it's not just about the barbecue. The plan was for the president, together with a parliamentary corps, to summarize the political season. It was to take place at the Parkovyy exhibition center, where the party office is located. But Zelenskyy called off the meeting.

A representative of the President's team cites last-minute preparation as one of the reasons that the meeting was canceled. But admits that a bad emotional atmosphere was also among the reasons. Recently, the Parliament failed to vote for a number of bills that had Zelenskyy’s support.

"The 'environment day' was a complete failure. There were laws that were unfavorable to industries," we were told off the record. At the same time, the word "oligarch" is avoided while talking industry, because the relevant law also has not yet been adopted by the legislature.

One of the "servants" assumes that it is even for the better that this "shashlik teambuilding" never materialized, adding: "amid those tense emotions, we could have broken out with each other, and with Zelenskyy. We had a bunch of claims against each other, and this wouldn’t have been ‘teambuilding’. It would have been hard words instead."

This all has led to the fact that parliamentarians once again started wondering: will the President dissolve the parliament? Among the "servants", this occurs every time the Rada fails to pass Zelenskyy’s initiatives.

"First, they mess it up for Ze, and then they get scared and begin to ask each other: well, maybe this time?" says one of the deputies from the presidential faction.

Who else craves a snap election

In parallel, the oppositionists from different camps are also trying to undermine the status quo.

Here are some of the more recent statements from various oppositionists.

Natalia Korolevska, Opposition Platform - For Life: "We call on the president, the speaker, and all deputies to unite efforts and to go to re-election."

Oleh Lyashko, Radical Party: "Early parliamentary elections should be organized, according to which the parties that win form the Government."

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former prime minister: "Parliamentary elections must take place. Either regular or early."

Olena Bondarenko, former Party of Regions MP: "An ideal option for us is an early election. And not only parliamentary but also presidential ".

Early elections are supported by Petro Poroshenko’s party too.

"All except Zelenskyy are interested in early elections. All monopoly power is in a single pair of hands. Therefore, everyone else is interested in early [elections]," European Solidarity reasoned in a conversation with hromadske.

Zelenskyy’s reps confirm that a snap general election this fall is disadvantageous to the head of state. Because if it goes ahead, he will lose control over the parliament.

"Compare 190-200 guided votes in this Rada with 120 in the next [convocation], who are besides a part of an unpredictable coalition. This is a scenario (election in the fall of 2021 - ed.) that is at the very least oligarchic, at most - pro-Russian. In order to shut off the country for a year, because it may happen if a coalition is not created after the election," explains a representative of Zelenskyy’s team.

З'їзд політичної партії «Слуга Народу» в Києві, 13 березня 2021 року

Congress of the Servant of the People party in Kyiv, March 13, 2021. Photo: UNIAN / Victor Kovalchuk

For the "oligarchic scenario", it is important that Zelenskyy loses his majority in the parliament. After that, "servants" will have to negotiate with other factions on the creation of a coalition. Therefore, such events are the dream of the so-called "Akhmetov’s pool" politicians.

"[Oleh] Lyashko is among those who are definitely attributed to him. His party’s popularity is close to 5%, but he is not guaranteed (entry to parliament - ed.). [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk - his popularity is even lower, he won’t pull off another "People’s Front" now. [Borys] Kolesnikov is a private initiative to create a party Ukraine Our Home, but he is not popular either," elaborates Volodymyr Fesenko, a political scientist close to the President’s Office.

One of the representatives of Zelenskyy’s team takes it further:

"(In the case of early elections - ed.) the Poroshenko electorate will be mobilized, which is currently not mobilized enough. Accordingly, Poroshenko will take a bite from [Volodymyr] Groysman. If [Vitaliy] Klychko runs separately from Groysman, their electorate will be even more spread out. There is also Mr. Lyashko, who in turn takes a bite from [Ihor] Smeshko, for example. It doesn’t run as smoothly as in DTEK presentations."

So it might be more beneficial for the oligarch to have his own "bird in the hand" - his non-faction deputies and a group of influence among the "servants" in this Rada, well, and plus the prime minister.

However, the presidential position remains decisive.

"While key laws are adopted, Zelenskyy won’t resort to dissolution of the parliament. When it becomes clear that everything needed for macro-financial support or progress in the reforms slows down, then he will start considering," says one of the parliamentarians from the presidential faction.

Will Zelenskyy resign?

Another scenario, which was voiced to us by Poroshenko's party rep is an early presidential election this fall. According to them, Ukraine will face an economic and financial crisis amid increased utility tariffs. And in order to avoid the next fall in popularity, Zelenskyy can try to go for a second term earlier.

"He’d rather go to presidential re-election, realizing that he has a serious advantage over competitors, and this gap will melt over the next years of his cadence. 7-8 years of presidency is better than 5," European Solidarity MP expresses her opinion.

"This is total drivel," responds the President's team. "Who would be pondering this on a rising trend at all? Zelenskyy is now on an upward trend."

At the same time, our interlocutor mentions the paradoxical result that was recorded by sociologists: ascending electoral trend for Zelenskyy and at the same time an increase in the number of Ukrainians who believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction. There is no explanation for this paradox.

There are also legal barriers to early presidential elections.

The President can step down early in four cases, among which the most realistic is a voluntary resignation.

"The electoral code has the point that the President, who resigned of his own volition, can not run again," Zelenskyy team rep cites the norm of the legislation. This may also prevent a scenario of early elections.

If the "servants" suddenly decide to change this norm, it will be a signal for everyone to prepare for re-election. Accordingly, Zelenskyy will not be able to have the upper hand at the start.

Also, in the event of the resignation of the President, his duties are performed by the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. Zelenskyy is likely reluctant to make such a gift to the Speaker of the Parliament Dmytro Razumkov considering their deteriorated relationship.

Another obstacle to the election in the fall is the timeline. In the Constitution and legislation, the terms for dissolving the parliament and the holding of early elections are laid out in such a way that the fall of 2021 option is no longer viable.

The "2023 problem"

So when will parliamentary elections take place - either regular or extraordinary? At this point, there is no exact answer.

The Constitution stipulates that the regular elections of deputies take place on the last Sunday of October of the fifth year of powers of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. This convening parliament began work at the end of August 2019. Consequently, in August 2023 begins the fifth year of authority. And after two months it will be the "last Sunday of October of the fifth year."

That is, the parliamentarians may work a little more than four years. And in the Constitution, the term of office of the Rada is determined as five years. Some members of the president’s team see a conflict in this.

"They want to prolong the powers of the parliament through the Constitutional Court under their control," says the representative of Poroshenko's team. That is, the next elections to the parliament may take place not in 2023, but in 2024.

Члени виборчої комісії проводять підрахунок голосів на одній з виборчих дільниць під час позачергових виборів до Верховної Ради, в Харкові, 21 липня 2019 року

Members of the election commission are counting votes on one of the polling stations during extraordinary elections to the Verkhovna Rada, in Kharkiv, July 21, 2019. Photo: UNIAN / Andriy Mariyenko

However, this scenario can be realized not for the sake of an extra year for MPs. The fact is that for Zelenskyy it is technically more favorable to first hold presidential elections, and then parliamentary. The next presidential election should take place at the end of March 2024.

"Elections in 2023 put Zelenskyy at a disadvantage. He and the ‘servants’ will definitely lose them. Accordingly, at a presidential election in the spring of the 2024 - after losing the parliament - it will be harder to get re-elected. He will cease to be the one constantly winning," European Solidarity deputy elaborates.

The option of postponing the parliamentary elections is not ruled out by the presidential team. On the contrary, they confirm that they are already thinking over various options, how to swap the general election with the presidential.

"There are several ideas of varying degrees of creativity. From clarification of the Constitutional Court to ‘lawlessness’ of the Central Election Committee. The latter may not appoint parliamentary elections in 2023. But everything will be within the law," says the representative of the Zelenskyy team.

The President’s Office does not have a final solution to the “2023 problem” yet. An early parliamentary election in 2022 with subsequent uncertainty with the work of the Rada and problems with the creation of a coalition are not out of the question either.

"But the president will win from this: he will say that they are foolish, and I am a president, I have the NSDC. At the same time, the infrastructural projects will stall, because there will be no government," the representative of the Zelenskyy team reckons.

* * *

There have been precedents in the political history of Ukraine, where politicians played with election dates.

The 2010 presidential election also took place through a legal conflict. Viktor Yushchenko was elected president, when the Day of Election in the Constitution was defined as "the last Sunday of October of the fifth year in office." But a year later, the Fundamental Law changed, as well as the relevant norm. It was determined to be “the last Sunday of the last month of the fifth year of authority."

The Verkhovna Rada called elections for October 2009. Yushchenko appealed this decision in the Constitutional Court. As a result, the elections were appointed on January 17, 2010, because the term of office was counted from the day of the inauguration on January 25, 2005.

Another conflict of law arose in 2010. When during the time of Viktor Yanukovych, the old edition of the Constitution was brought back, it turned out that the acting convocation of the Rada had its term of office reduced. They were elected in 2007, when the Fundamental Law defined five years of powers for deputies. The Constitution "restored" by Yanukovych reinstated the old norm - four years of office.

The conflict of law was removed by changing the constitution. In February 2011, the Fundamental Law saw the return of “five”. A number of MPs in opposition to Yanukovych supported this motion, as they did not want to waive an extra year in the Rada. Without their votes, the coalition initiative would have failed.

Our sources predict that if this composition of the parliament is offered to solve the "2023 problem" again through changes to the Constitution, it may not garner the necessary 300 votes. Because the key political forces except "servants" are interested in holding elections as soon as possible to break Zelenskyy’s monopoly.

But in all cases, it will be the president’s position that will be decisive when it comes to elections.

"If Zelenskyy is not interested in this, then no snap elections will take place. Early parliamentary elections take place only with the consent of the president," summarizes Volodymyr Fesenko.