Gene Sharp's 198 Methods, Number 124 - Boycott of Elections

Boycott of Elections

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

Boycott of Elections

Where there is reason to believe that an election will not be conducted fairly or where there is refusal to recognize the authority of the régime conducting the election, an opposition movement may refuse to put up candidates and may urge people to refuse to vote. The aim of such a boycott is usually to protest the use of the election to deceive people as to the degree of democracy present; or it may be an attempt to prevent the "real" issue or issues, as seen by the resistance group, from being overshadowed by "lesser" issues. Sometimes election boycotts have also been attempted by minority groups seeking to deprive the elected government of legitimacy and thereby making it more vulnerable to later attack by various means, including guerrilla warfare.

Anarchist election boycott - Poland, 2010When the Jacobins sought in 1793 to calm political discontent by submitting to a plebiscite a constitution which declared that after the emergency Frenchmen could once again choose their form of government, three out of four citizens abstained from voting.[29] Later the electors acted similarly: "The result of the illegalities of fructidor made the election of 1798 almost farcical. Practically all the moderates abstained from voting. What was the use of voting if the Directors refused to accept the results of the elections?"[30]

Following the Russian Tsar's manifesto of 1905, which contained very limited steps toward greater local autonomy for Finland, the Finnish Social Democrats returned to their earlier minimum demand for a Constituent Assembly and boycotted the elections to the new Diet.[31] Socialist Revolutionaries meeting in Russia in January 1906 told their followers to boycott the elections to the Duma, though most of them voted anyway.[32]

Another example is that of the Puerto Rican Nationalists, who for many years boycotted elections because they refuse to recognize the United States government's right to control the island and to operate the election machinery.[33]

Election boycott against post-coup government - Honduras, 2009 Crespigny reports three cases from the years 1961 and 1962.[34] In November 1961 the opposition in Portugal withdrew from the coming parliamentary elections and urged citizens not to vote, in order to avoid the false appearance of a fair election.[35] In Uganda, in April 1962, the rulers of Ankole, Bunyoro, Toro and Busoga threatened election boycotts in an effort to gain full federal status for their territories.[36] That same month all major opposition parties boycotted the federal elections of the Central African Federation (also called the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland), as part of their eventually successful campaign for the federation's breakup.[37] Also in April 1962 the opposition party in El Salvador refused to take part in the presidential election, declaring that the election of 1961 had been fraudulent: the government's candidates had won all seats.[38]

Militant Vietnamese Buddhist leaders in mid-August 1966 called on their followers not to vote in the election of a constitutional assembly on September 11, charging that the Ky government was trying to exploit the election in order "to form a dictatorial régime to serve foreign interests."[39]

A variation on this approach was the "Voters' Veto" campaign in Britain during the 1959 General Election, in which there was no opposition to candidates being nominated or to the holding of the election, but there was a refusal to support any candidates, of whatever party, who did not clearly state their willingness to vote in Parliament for unconditional unilateral nuclear disarmament. In practice this meant a boycott of all candidates in most constituencies.[40]

Gene Sharp, reprinted with permission, from The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action.  Method #124, pp. 291-292.  First published in 1973.  Seventh Printing.  Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1998.

  • [29] E. L. Woodward, French Revolutions (London: Oxford University Press [Humphrey Milford], 1939), p. 55.
  • [30] Ibid, p. 74.
  • [31] Hugh Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966), p. 242.
  • [32] Ibid, p. 249. See also Richard Charques, The Twilight of Imperial Russia (Fair Lawn, New Jersey: Essential Books, 1959; London: Phoenix House, 1958), pp. 145 and 174.
  • [33] Personal conversations with Ruth Reynolds, New York 1954-55.
  • [34] Anthony de Crespigny, "The Nature and Methods of Non-Violent Coercion," Political Studies (London), vol. XII, no. 2 (June 1964), pp. 264-65.  The following are sources for the particular cases.
  • [35] New Statesman (London), 10 Nov. 1961; The Times (London), 14 Nov. 1961.
  • [36] The Times, 2 and 3 April 1962.
  • [37] The Observer (London), 22 April 1962.
  • [38] The Times, 30 April 1962.
  • [39] Washington Post, 17 August 1966.
  • [40] Peace News, 11 July 1958 and 23 January, 6 and 27 February 1959.
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