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Opposition boycotts of allegedly rigged elections: anyone else see this as a cop out?

  • 18-03-2018 9:18pm
    #1
    Registered Users Posts: 17,797 ✭✭✭✭


    I can think of two recent cases in which the opposition to a government or referendum proposal asked their supporters to boycott, IE either not vote at all or spoil their ballots, a vote which was taking place. One was in the case of the Catalonia independence referendum in Spain last year, and one was just today, where the opposition in Russia called for people to boycott the election and the incumbent government as well as various businesses actually offered incentives to people to get out and vote, so that they could have enough voters for the election to be considered statistically valid - a sort of informal "national quorum", if you will.

    There are two other recent cases which may have involved boycotts in this manner, but as I can't remember for sure and am too post-Paddy's Day hazed to go Googling it I didn't include them as examples - I believe one or more of the post-Arab Spring Egyptian elections was boycotted, and I also believe that the referendum held in Crimea a few years ago over membership of Ukraine was also boycotted by one side or the other.

    It strikes me that this tactic is almost always employed by a side which, according to pre-election polls, is very likely to lose the election or referendum being held. And I have to say I find it an incredibly cynical, underhanded and cop-out tactic. If you believe that an election is subject to irregularities or ballot stuffing, protest that after the vote, no question - but it strikes me, and this is where I'm wondering if anyone agrees, that boycotting an election you're seen as likely to lose is basically a cheap way of discrediting the result. In other words, if you tell your supporters to stay home, then when you lose the election it gives you an excuse to make claims along the lines of "oh, well we boycotted it, so the results aren't a true reflection of the national mood and therefore don't "count" for anything. We might have won if we hadn't deliberately told our people not to vote, so the whole election is invalid".

    We saw this with Catalonia and we're seeing it again today in Russia, where the opposition are already stating that because their supporters were asked to boycott, it means that the result itself is invalid even if no irregularities or corruption is discovered. A closely related claim is that the election is invalid because there's no "credible opposition" - which translates in my own head as "the results are invalid because nobody is popular enough to defeat the guy we don't like".

    Does anyone else feel this way? I'm all for protesting and agitating over rigged and compromised elections, hell I've even supported violent rebellions against this in some extreme cases in the past. But telling people not to vote and then saying "not enough people voted so the results don't count" seems to me to be an extremely obvious, cheap, and underhanded way of trying to discredit an election which you know you're probably going to lose. Basically, it seems like these groups are trying to back the likely winner into a corner where it's like "even if you win, you didn't actually win.

    If you take today's election in Russia, what exactly would it take for the opposition to be satisfied? Reading some of the arguments they're using, it seems as if they will ONLY see the election as valid if Putin doesn't win, because they believe that a majority of the people don't support him. But this is akin to the infamous Witch Trial method of drowning people to prove they aren't witches - damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. They're literally saying, if you strip back all the dressing-up of the various arguments, "if he wins, then it means the vote doesn't count". Which boils down to "the election is only valid if I get the result I want, otherwise it's bullsh!t". This is exactly what happened in Catalonia - the independence side won the referendum but the unity side said "well our people stayed home at our request so the result is meaningless". Very convenient way of preventing your side from losing an election!

    This, at least to me, is a very obviously undemocratic way of thinking, and I for one find it pretty abhorrent. What do ye think?


Comments

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 13,993 ✭✭✭✭recedite


    You are totally correct that it is a cynical and dishonest tactic. But sometimes it works, for example when there is a minimum voter turnout required to make the result valid. I think that was the case in Catalonia and it was definitely the case in Hungary 2016 when a 99.8% vote was deemed invalid because it was short of the 50% required turnout.

    Bearing in mind that a 50% to 70% turnout is all that can be expected anyway, then even at the higher turnout figure a 36% vote represents a genuine win. So if the opposition expects to get less than 36% they can scupper the vote by boycotting it.

    If you take Putin's recent win, with a majority vote and a high turnout, and a known high approval rating beforehand, there is not much to say.
    Of course that won't stop the innuendo and begrudgery being led by the BBC and followed by RTE.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 16,015 ✭✭✭✭James Brown


    Putin is a dictator and although he may have actually won, he was going to anyway. Sometimes not voting and protesting as to why is your only option. I can see boycotts being used underhandedly but when the democratic process is compromised it's one of a few options. I would suggest it be viewed on a case by case basis.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,445 ✭✭✭blackwhite


    Putin could be universally loved or reviled - it wouldn’t make a difference in the final results.
    When any credible opposition was repressed (often violently) then continuing to participate only gives legitimacy to the sham.

    Using the other example from the OP, Catalonia, the vote was illegal by virtue of Catalan law (ignoring that it also illegal under Spanish law) . What sort of demented logic is needed to claim that all parties should participate in, and lend credibility to, a vote that was illegal to begin with?


  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators Posts: 20,711 Mod ✭✭✭✭Brian?


    recedite wrote: »
    If you take Putin's recent win, with a majority vote and a high turnout, and a known high approval rating beforehand, there is not much to say.
    Of course that won't stop the innuendo and begrudgery being led by the BBC and followed by RTE.

    Innuendo and begrudgery? Putin is literally killing off his opposition every year. Those he isn't killing he uses state resources to make them ineligible for election, with trumped up criminal charges. The guy is a totalitarian dictator who pre-rigs elections so the result is beyond a doubt.

    they/them/theirs


    And so on, and so on …. - Slavoj Žižek




  • Closed Accounts Posts: 13,993 ✭✭✭✭recedite


    blackwhite wrote: »
    Using the other example from the OP, Catalonia, the vote was illegal by virtue of Catalan law (ignoring that it also illegal under Spanish law) . What sort of demented logic is needed to claim that all parties should participate in, and lend credibility to, a vote that was illegal to begin with?
    The idea that a an independence bid, or an actual declaration of independence can be stopped because it is "illegal" is itself a demented logic. Of course its going to be illegal according to the existing regime. The American DOI was illegal according to the British crown.

    Whether the Catalonian referendum (ie the Yes result) achieved a big enough turnout/mandate to be considered legitimate is another matter. That is the subject of this thread; whether it is acceptable for the No side to scupper a referendum/vote by boycotting it, and then claiming the result is not legitimate because of the low turnout.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 2,102 ✭✭✭piplip87


    The Catalan vote was deemed illegal, the boycott was called because of this, as a result you got a very one sided poll that would not stand up to scrutiny. Why go and vote in an illegal referendum ?


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 13,993 ✭✭✭✭recedite


    piplip87 wrote: »
    The Catalan vote was deemed illegal
    Yes, by Madrid.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,445 ✭✭✭blackwhite


    recedite wrote: »
    The idea that a an independence bid, or an actual declaration of independence can be stopped because it is "illegal" is itself a demented logic. Of course its going to be illegal according to the existing regime. The American DOI was illegal according to the British crown.

    Whether the Catalonian referendum (ie the Yes result) achieved a big enough turnout/mandate to be considered legitimate is another matter. That is the subject of this thread; whether it is acceptable for the No side to scupper a referendum/vote by boycotting it, and then claiming the result is not legitimate because of the low turnout.

    You're missing the point. I've no problem with them ignoring Spanish law/constitution when trying to gain independence - like you rightly say, the Spanish govt are hardly likely to give a neat legal route for their country ot be torn apart.

    Catalonia itself (ignoring the national laws of Spain) has laws around what is required for a referendum to be legally called - these aren't imposed on Catalonia by Spain, these are the democratic protections that the people of Catalonia voted to put in place.

    The problem with expecting Puigemont's opponents to play along and give a glean of legitimacy to his referendum is that he had also ignored the Catalan laws around the requirements for holding a referendum, and had organised the poll in such a way that there were no guarantees around any fairness in how it was going to be conducted.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 417 ✭✭Mancomb Seepgood


    There are circumstances whereby a genuinely free and fair election is impossible and to participate would be to legitimise a sham.

    A good example of that would be the last Zimbabwean elections in 2013.There was a completely unbalanced media landscape,a voters roll which was out of date and featured names of people born in the 19th century,and ruling party hacks in key positions.

    By participating,the opposition allowed the government to present the election as fair to the rest of the world.


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