The new normal that Ukraine has been forced into after Russia's full-scale invasion on the 24th of February 2022 raises questions for the Ukrainian government, politicians, experts, and society about whether democratic elections are possible in Ukraine while the active phase of the war is ongoing. This also raises questions about the legitimacy of Ukrainian elected authorities when elections are not likely for years to come. 

Part I of the Ukraine Policy Alert “Ukrainian authorities’ legitimacy when elections are impossible” examines the limitations imposed by a full-scale war on the conduct of elections in Ukraine, as well as the legal legitimacy of representative bodies that cannot be re-elected.

Part II attempts to answer the question of how to maintain a sufficient level of trust in the authorities in a situation where elections are impossible. Unlike legal legitimacy, political legitimacy is not determined by the Constitution, but by the ever-changing political reality. The latter remains the main problem for the Ukrainian authorities, growing with each passing year without elections.

Part I

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has caused the political system to face the challenges of so-called "militant democracy" - the need for the authorities to take measures to preserve the democratic regime in Ukraine and create opportunities for democracy to defend itself. This situation has affected the institution of democratic elections as one of the main factors of the government's legitimacy.

Since it became clear that the Ukrainian parliamentary elections scheduled for 29th of October 2023 would be postponed indefinitely, and it also became obvious that the planned presidential elections on 31st of March 2024 would also be postponed, Ukraine has found itself in new legal and political circumstances and there is no clarity regarding what comes next. This issue becomes even more evident when discussing the local elections in Ukraine, which are scheduled for 26 October 2025. However, it is highly likely these may also be postponed or held only on Ukraine's sovereign territory if the situation on the battlefield remains unchanged.

This discussion surrounding the issue of elections and legitimacy has two main aspects - legal and political. While the former is determined by Ukrainian legislation, international law, and democratic standards, the latter is less transparent and predictable. The political aspect depends on the domestic political situation in Ukraine, changes in the situation at the battlefront, and the expectations of Ukrainian society and the international community, especially the Western partners of Ukraine. The interaction of these different elements in the face of uncertainty will shape the current situation with the political legitimacy of the government in Ukraine when elections are impossible.

Download Part I of the report here:

Open Document

Part II

While there are no legal grounds to doubt the legitimacy of the elected authorities in Ukraine, whose mandate is extended due to the inability to hold elections, there is still political reality, political competition, and public sentiment forming the essence of political legitimacy. Meanwhile, it has been demonstrated that with each passing year without elections, the level of trust in the Ukrainian authorities will naturally decline.

The public opinion poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in October 2023 on the eve of the upcoming parliamentary elections is an essential component of the issue of the political legitimacy of the authorities in Ukraine, who cannot be re-elected. Answering the question, "This autumn, the powers of the Verkhovna Rada will expire, and in the spring, the powers of the President will end; when should the elections be held?" 81% of Ukrainian respondents did not support holding elections during the war and believed they should be held after the war. In comparison, only 16% supported the idea that elections should be held despite the war.

At the same time, the level of trust Ukrainians have in elected authorities is gradually declining, which is natural and predictable. According to the latest sociological survey conducted in early December 2023 by the KIIS, 62% of respondents trusted the President (with 18% distrusting him), while in December 2022, 84% trusted him (with only 5% distrusting him). The situation with support for the Verkhovna Rada is almost mirrored: In December 2023, only 15% of respondents trusted the Parliament (with 61% distrusting it), while in December 2022, the level of trust in the Parliament was 35% (with 34% distrusting). Although before the full-scale invasion, the level of support for these authorities was much lower than it is today (27% and 11% trusted the President and Parliament, while 50% and 67% distrusted them correspondingly), trust in central government is declining and is likely to continue to fall. As for the local authorities (mayor and local council), in the October survey, the level of trust in these authorities was 50%, while distrust was 46%, and this trend has been observed since 2022. This highlights that the trust in state institutions has consistently been low in Ukraine, and, therefore, it could be too easy to attribute only to the lack of voting capacity.

The growing level of distrust and the decline in public support for legitimately elected authorities in the face of the inability to hold elections may lead to a crisis of their political legitimacy. And with each year of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the issue of the crisis of public distrust in the authorities may grow. This means that even though there will be no questions about the authorities' legal legitimacy, questions about their political legitimacy will periodically appear. This is likely to be a cause for domestic political debates, for example, on the eve of the next presidential elections in the spring of 2024 and of the following local elections in 2025 and as the situation on the battlefield deteriorates and living standards fall. For Ukraine’s Western partners, some authoritarian tendencies in Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s governance, slowdown in reforms, or corruption scandals could impact political debates. This situation questions the legitimacy of the President’s power, the Verkhovna Rada, or local councils in Ukraine.

Download Part II of the report here: Open Document