"Technologically, it is better for us to hold the elections earlier," a source in the leadership of the Servant of the People faction admits. "While everyone believes in the president’s rating, the party’s rating is getting worse."
The idea was suddenly floated by Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, who said the Ukrainian constitution does not prohibit holding elections during war.
"There is a great desire of a part of the ruling team to hold elections," Oleksii Honcharenko, an MP from European Solidarity, an opposition party led by ex-president Petro Poroshenko, told LIGA.net in an interview.
"Ukrainians were told that we won in advance, and they were asked to prepare for a vacation in Crimea. And since this is not the case, the authorities are afraid of losing the voters."
What do the Ukrainian parliament and presidential office think of holding elections as the full-scale war goes on, what does Ukrainian law say about it, and is it necessary to think about elections now anyway?
The Mandela effect
On 29 July, a messenger group of Servants of the People MPs was on its toes. Its members were actively discussing an interview with Mr Stefanchuk, who said "there is no constitutional ban on holding elections during martial law".
"Many did not understand what this statement meant. Some recalled the constitution," one of the MPs from the ruling faction told LIGA.net, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Add to that the stories of Messrs Aristov and Kholodov," they added, referring to the MPs who were caught going abroad and neglecting their parliamentary duties, something that caused indignation in Ukrainian society.
"Many MPs are in a very sad mood, because they realise that they will not be re-elected."
"I'm surprised that this has caused a flurry of emotions among many people," the Ukrainian parliament’s speaker tells LIGA.net in an interview.
The president’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada, Fedir Venislavskyi, from the Servant of the People faction, says he has not heard "any talk of possible elections before the end of the war".
Experts interviewed by LIGA.net point to part 4 of article 83 of the Ukrainian constitution:
"Therefore, the termination of the current convocation of the parliament during martial law is impossible, as well as elections," Olha Aivazovska, chair of the board of Civil Network Opora, a non-profit dealing with electoral law, tells LIGA.net.
"It's a manipulation to say that the Constitution does not prohibit it," Andrii Osadchuk, an MP of the opposition Holos [Voice] faction, tells LIGA.net.
Mr Stefanchuk does not back down, however.
"It seems to be a clear provision. But let's read who is the subject of this provision; it is the Verkhovna Rada after the end of its term of office. Therefore, this provision should obviously be read together with Article 76 of the constitution, which states that the term of office of the Verkhovna Rada is five years.
"It is this point that, as a general rule, determines the term of office of the Verkhovna Rada. This parliament may be five years old on 29 August 2024. And only from that moment on can the provisions of part 4 of article 83 be triggered. Until then, the constitution does not contain any prohibitions."
He explains that the ban on holding elections is provided for in the electoral code and martial law legislation.
"However, this does not negate the fact that the constitution does not contain a provision that unambiguously prohibits elections during martial law."
Stefanchuk v Kox
However, there’s more to what the parliamentary speaker said about elections in the same interview.
"On the one hand, yes, the parliament should continue to work. On the other hand, we must understand that there should be no stagnation of democracy."
Mr Stefanchuk here recalled Tiny Kox, the president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. In May, he spoke to European Pravda, a Ukrainian news media outlet, and reportedly insisted Ukraine should hold parliamentary and presidential elections even under martial law, with the Ukrainian authorities having to figure out how to rise to the challenge.
Some members of the parliament were outraged.
"On the eighteenth month [of Russia’s full-scale invasion] there are many people on both sides of the Atlantic who want to achieve a so-called fighting draw," Mr Osadchuk said.
"And if we decide to hold elections on a smaller territory than the one that was under Ukraine’s control until 24 February 2022, I assure you our enemies will say that we have agreed to the loss of territory. Any talk of elections during martial law is illegal."
Ms Aivazovska does not doubt that Ukrainian media misinterpreted Mr Cox’s words.
"I interviewed him, and he clearly said that only Ukraine can determine when and under what conditions elections will be held. But since Ukraine is striving for democracy, it cannot, even during the war, not be engaged in the process of preparing post-war elections."
When asked by LIGA.net to clarify his words, Mr Stefanchuk replied: "Many international colleagues ask me when we communicate, ‘Are you thinking about the next elections?’ I tell them, ‘We are thinking about our victory, and the elections should be held after our victory.’ And then we will really need changes to the legislation."
He believes the parliament should at least explain what kind of elections it will be, since they won’t be held regularly, that is, five years after the last ones.
"Because the constitution provides for only two types of elections, regular and early ones. There are no post-regular elections. And there are a number of other legislative inconsistencies. We need to figure out how to get out of this legal confusion."
‘It’s a gamble, even for us’
From an electoral point of view, the government is interested in holding elections as soon as possible, "before the rating is smeared," a source in the Servant of the People faction’s leadership told LIGA.net.
"But objectively, there is no possibility [to hold elections] now. Elections during the war are a gamble, even for us," they admit.
The source adds that most parliamentary factions are not against a ‘reboot’ as long as their level of support has not completely dropped.
"So in theory, everyone is interested, but they think about how their voters will react to this. On the one hand, people do not accept this parliament. But given the war, they choose to let the MPs from the Maldives sit there rather than have a missile hit us in the head because of the elections."
Mr Honcharenko, from the European Solidarity faction, says only the ruling faction’s MPs are talking about the elections.
"The authorities are afraid of losing electoral opportunities," he believes.
The experts who LIGA.net spoke to believe Mr Stefanchuk’s statement is a call to prepare for the elections to be held after the war. After all, there are many challenges to that.
Oleksandr Kliuzhev, an expert at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Ukraine, lists the need to update the state voter register and the creation of additional temporary polling stations for millions of Ukrainian refugees.
"The whole complex of problems suggests that we should prepare for the elections now, but knowing that they will be held after the war is over and we prepare for them," Mr Kliuzhev says.
In his opinion, by the end of autumn, a plan for preparing for the post-war elections should be discussed at the level of the state electoral commission and parliament.
The authorities, however, are afraid to start a public discussion.
"When you start to actively engage in a working group, everyone thinks that there will be elections," one of the leaders of the Servant of the People faction tells LIGA.net.
"Plus, MPs see Mr Zelenskyy promising consequences to those who have gone abroad. They think that tomorrow the parliament will be dissolved."
In fact, the source says, theoretical aspects of post-war elections have been in the making for several months.
"It’s just that all these processes are not collected in a single document, so as not to cause unnecessary political stress."
Ms Aivazovska from Civil Network Opora calls for the discussion to start now, otherwise Ukraine will suffer significant reputational damage.
"Even during the US elections, we are seeing a discourse around Ukrainian democracy. Radical politicians are already starting to refer to the fact that Ukraine is not holding elections, so it is not a democracy, so it does not need help.
The Armed Forces will decide
Another question is when to hold post-war elections.
"The president’s team realises it will be able to successfully reboot only immediately after the martial law is lifted. After three months of ‘peaceful’ life, their reputation will be very difficult," Mr Osadchuk from the Voice faction says.
However, he believes that holding elections immediately after martial law is "absurd".
"After such a social and economic upheaval, the country will need to recover, restore freedom of speech, normal social life, and political parties to start working properly. It will take at least two quarters to recover."
Mr Honcharenko from European Solidarity agrees.
"Elections are not just about coming and counting. How can there be an election campaign when the government completely controls television? After the end of hostilities, we need a minimum of time to ensure all democratic electoral procedures."
In the Servant of the People faction, they do not see any problems with this. Mr Venislavsky says that after the martial law is lifted, the central election commission should start electoral procedures in compliance with all national and international standards of transparency and democracy of the electoral process.
The authorities, meanwhile, are waiting for news from the frontline.
"The law will not be written before something is clear on the frontline," the source in the Servant of the People leadership says. "There may be discussions at the committee level, but that's it."