Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that taxpayers in the United States and European Union send the country even more aid if the West wishes for elections to be held next year.
In an interview published by the president’s office on Sunday evening, Zelensky said that he would be willing to hold elections despite the ongoing martial law amid the war with Russia, so long as the U.S. and EU bankroll the voting process.
The Ukrainian leader said that elections during peacetime typically cost around 5 billion hryvnia ($135 million) but did not speculate as to how much more they would cost during a war, though presumably it would be much higher.
Zelensky said that he discussed the topic of funding for the 2024 elections with U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been one of the staunchest supporters of sending more aid to Ukraine on Capitol Hill.
“I told [Sen. Graham]: If the United States and Europe give us financial support… I’m sorry, I will not hold elections on credit, I will not take money from weapons and give it to elections either. But if you give me this financial support, if the parliamentarians realize that we need to do this, then let’s quickly change the legislation and, most importantly, let’s take risks together,” Zelensky said.
“Observers should be in the trenches. I told him: observers must be sent to the frontline so that the elections are legitimate for us and for the whole world. And this is absolutely fair,” he added.
Zelensky, a former comedian who prior to becoming president actually portrayed a fictitious president on the television programme Servant of the People, was elected in 2019 with over 73 per cent of the vote on the backs of promises to cut down on corruption and normalising relations with Russia. However, this would not come to pass, with a hot war breaking out between the two countries last year after Russia launched an invasion in February.
Currently, elections are prohibited while the country is under martial law, the renewal of which takes place every 90 days. The next expiration date of martial law is set for November 15th, meaning that it is unlikely that parliamentary elections will be held during their typically scheduled October.
Under normal circumstances, the next presidential election would normally be held in March of next year. In addition to the uncertainty around the vote itself, it also remains to be seen if President Zelensky will lift the ban of several opposition parties he imposed last year under the pretence of them being pro-Russian.
In Sunday’s interview, Zelensky went on to describe some of the logistical challenges of holding elections, noting that millions of Ukrainians are currently living abroad, principally in the European Union, and therefore he said EU countries would need to set up polling stations for the refugees.
“We need help from Europe here, because Ukrainians today are mostly in the European Union. Polling stations must be opened there so that people can come. 7 million people have to vote. We do not have such infrastructural capacities – we need to provide appropriate opportunities there,” he said.
The Ukrainian president also said that he was unsure of how to allow the military to vote in full, saying: “How will the military be able to vote? Show me the infrastructure. No one has shown it yet. How will people abroad be able to vote? No one has shown me. There is a way out. I am ready for it. I am talking about this publicly now, I told [Graham]. I have no secrets.”
“We need an election in Ukraine next year. I want to see this country have a free and fair election even while it is under assault,” the president said.