Of Ukraine’s six presidential transitions, only those in 2010 and 2019 proceeded entirely as envisioned in the constitution. In several cases, elections and transitions resulted from ad hoc arrangements made to address political crises. In one case, street protests forced the rerunning of elections seen as rigged, and in another street protests led to the departure of a president whose election had been seen as free and fair. In some cases, procedures that were entirely improvised were widely seen as legitimate, while in other cases established formal procedures were insufficient to legitimize a leader’s rule. This raises the question of how elections and legitimacy interact. Under what conditions are elections sufficient to legitimate rule, and in what cases are they insufficient? Under what circumstances do non-legal means of changing rulers gain popular legitimacy? By reviewing Ukraine’s seven presidential elections and six transitions of power, this article explores variation in the power of elections as a legitimating force.

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