Zelenskyy: To stay or not to stay?
    Ukraine leader's legitimacy expires on May 20

    ANALYTICS  13 April 2024 - 10:01

    Sadyar Aliyev

    The powers of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, elected in 2019, expire on May 20, but presidential elections have not been held in the country. According to Kyiv's position, it is a matter of martial law. It has been in effect since February 24, 2022, and the Verkhovna Rada extends it every three months (the last time this was done was on February 6 – for 90 days until May 13). The law on the legal regime of martial law (Article 19) directly prohibits these conditions from changing the constitution, electing the president, parliament, and local government bodies. The Rada also adheres to this position: on November 30, 2023, all faction leaders signed a memorandum stating that elections would be held after the end of hostilities.

    In February 2024, according to a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), only 69% were in favour of Zelenskyy remaining the leader of the state until the end of hostilities.

    The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called for elections. “It is not our place to dictate how to do this, but, of course, Ukraine must organize free and fair elections. Because this is your obligation under the Statute of the Council of Europe. And, of course, you will,” said Assembly Speaker Tiny Cox on May 17, 2023. US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham spoke similarly on August 25, 2023: “I want free and fair elections in this country ".

    More senior Western leaders were more cautious. On February 22, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the elections an internal matter of Ukraine. A week before March 31 (the last possible day for holding presidential elections), US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller emphasized that the elections were difficult to hold due to the fighting. “So ultimately these issues must be decided by the Ukrainian people,” he told reporters on March 25.

    Moscow is ready for negotiations, but variations of the “Zelenskyy formula” do not suit it

    On April 2, former Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov said that after May 20, Zelenskyy will cease to be a legitimate president. “Zelenskyy at the end of May will become an impostor, illegitimate, a person who usurped power with all the ensuing consequences. What are the consequences? And the consequences are very simple - not a single one of the regulations issued by him will have legal force,” he noted in his Telegram channel.

    On March 4, the response of the Chairman of the Ukrainian Central Election Commission Oleg Didenko to a request from the Glavkom publication for clarification in connection with the expiration of Zelenskyy’s term of office was published. It stated that, according to the provisions of the constitution, the President of Ukraine exercises his powers until the newly elected head of state takes office. The President does not have the right to transfer his powers, and his resignation occurs only after a declaration of this. Didenko also noted that the martial law regime does not allow holding presidential elections, so Zelenskyy’s powers after May 20 will be automatically extended until the elections are held.

    In Ukraine, the decision of the constitutional court of May 15, 2014 is in force, which was adopted to prevent the return of Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency. Then the court noted that the provisions of Art. 103 of the Constitution of Ukraine and its other articles, which define the constitutional and legal status of the President of Ukraine, do not contain rules establishing a term other than five years for which citizens can elect the head of state, regardless of the type of elections (regular or extraordinary).

    Enshrined Part 1 Art. 103 of the Basic Law, a five-year term is the only constitutionally established term for which the president is elected. As a result, after May 20, Zelenskyy ceases to de jure be president.

    The West is unlikely to say a word about the legitimacy of Zelenskyy’s government after May 20, says Igor Shishkin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS Countries. According to him, for the West, nothing will change after the expiration of Zelenskyy’s term - the Ukrainian president is completely controlled by the EU and the United States, so there is no need to talk about the mythical “third Maidan” that Moscow allegedly plans to organize. Zelenskyy’s decrees after May 20 will not be recognized as illegitimate. Zelenskyy’s decision that the May 31 elections would not take place was not influenced in any way by the absence of many Ukrainian citizens in the country, Shishkin believes. According to him, the main player in the current political situation is the United States, which alone can replace Zelenskyy in his post.

    There is no need to talk about the “Maidan” directed against Zelenskyy, he remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, and the person who could compete with him, the former commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny, was removed from the political field by appointing him Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK. After Zaluzhny’s resignation, the trust rating for the Ukrainian president fell by 13% (from 77% in December 2023 to 64% in February) and distrust increased from 22% in December to 35% in February, according to the KIIS survey results published on February 15. At the same time, the trust rating of the former commander-in-chief was 94%.

    As independent researcher Konstantin Skorkin concludes: “The regular change of power was one of the achievements of Ukrainian democracy, distinguishing it from most other post-Soviet countries, especially Russia and Belarus. It is not surprising that even the slightest threat to this achievement is enough to shake both Ukrainian society and its political elite."


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