An election boycott is the boycotting of an election by a group of voters, each of whom abstains from voting.
Boycotting may be used as a form of political protest where voters feel that electoral fraud is likely, or that the electoral system is biased against its candidates, that the polity organizing the election lacks legitimacy, or that the candidates running are very unpopular. In jurisdictions with compulsory voting, a boycott may amount to an act of civil disobedience; alternatively, supporters of the boycott may be able to cast blank votes or vote for "none of the above". Boycotting voters may belong to a particular regional or ethnic group. A particular political party or candidate may refuse to run in the election and urges its supporters to boycott the vote.
In the case of a referendum, a boycott may be used as a voting tactic by opponents of the proposition. If the referendum requires a minimum turnout to be valid, the boycott may prevent this quorum being reached.
In general elections, individuals and parties will often boycott in order to protest the ruling party's policies with the hope that when voters do not show up the elections will be deemed illegitimate by outside observers. This tactic, however, can prove disastrous for the boycotting parties. Lack of participation rarely nullifies election results and the distorted voting is likely to further detach boycotting groups from the organs of power, leaving them susceptible to political irrelevance.
Major instances of electoral boycotts
|1971 Trinidad and Tobago general election||33.2|
|1973 Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum||58.1||Less than 1% amongst Catholics|
|1978 Guyanese constitutional referendum||70.8||Opposition estimates were between 10% and 14%|
|1978 South West African legislative election||80.2|
|1983 Jamaican general election||2.7||6 of 60 seats contested, with 55% turnout in them.|
|1984 South African general election||29.9 and 20.8|
|1989 South African general election||18.1 and 23.3|
|1991 Burkinabé presidential election||27.3|
|1992 Ghanaian parliamentary election||28.1|
|1993 Togolese presidential election||36.2|
|February 1996 Bangladeshi general election||21.0|
|1997 Malian presidential election||29.0|
|1997 Yemeni parliamentary election||61.0||Turnout (1993): 84.8%|
|1997 Slovak referendum||9.5|
|1997 Serbian general election||57.4||The elections were boycotted by several parties, including the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Civic Alliance, which claimed that the elections would not be held under fair conditions|
|1999 Algerian presidential election||60||Boycotting candidates claimed that it was only around 25%|
|2000 Ivorian presidential election||37.4|
|2000 Yugoslavian general election||28.8[nb 1]||Boycotting by the ruling coalition of Montenegro, led by DPS|
|2002 Gambian parliamentary election||56.4||Voting only took place in 15 of the 48 seats|
|2002 Montenegrin presidential election||45.9||election invalid|
|2003 Azerbaijani presidential election||62.85|
|February 2003 Montenegrin presidential election||46.6||election invalid|
|May 2003 Montenegrin presidential election||48.4|
|2003 Guinean presidential election||86||Opposition estimates were less than 15%|
|2005 Venezuelan parliamentary election||25.3|
|2006 Thai general election||65.2||Boycotted by all 3 opposition parties in the House of Representatives.|
|2008 Djiboutian parliamentary election||72.6|
|2012 Gambian parliamentary election||38.7|
|2014 Thai general election||65.2||Boycotting by Democrat Party.|
|2014 Bangladeshi general election||22.0|
|2016 Hungarian migrant quota referendum
||Referendum boycotted by MSZP, DK, Együtt, Párbeszéd, Modern Hungary Movement and The Homeland Not For Sale Movement Party, resulting in 98% of voters supporting the government. 224 thousand voters submitted invalid ballots, influenced by a campaign by the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party.|
|2017 Puerto Rican status referendum||23||Statehood, polled at 52% just 2 weeks prior, chosen by 97% of voters|
|2017 Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election||41.5||Opposition estimates were around 20%|
|2017 Catalan independence referendum||43.03||Opposition parties called on their voters to boycott the vote, except Catalunya Sí que es Pot who supported participation.|
|2018 Egyptian presidential election||41.1|
|2018 Russian presidential election
||Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for an election boycott, however an about 80% voter turnout was estimated.|
|2018 Venezuelan presidential election||46.1||Opposition estimates were between 17% and 26%|
|2018 Macedonian referendum||36.9|
|2019 Albanian local elections||23.0||Opposition estimates were 15.1%|
|2019 Algerian presidential election||39.9|
|2020 Artsakhian general election||45.0|
|2020 Serbian parliamentary election||48.9|
|2020 Ivorian presidential election||53.9|
|2020 Venezuelan parliamentary election||30.5|
|2020 Iranian legislative election||42||Conservatives:76.20%, Reformists: 6.89%|
|2021 Djiboutian presidential election||76.44|
In South Africa, the three largest independent social movements boycott the vote under the banner of the No Land! No House! No Vote! Campaign.
Other social movements in other parts of the world also have similar campaigns or non-voting preferences. These include the Naxalites in India, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico and various Anarchist oriented movements. In Mexico's mid term 2009 elections there was strong support for 'Nulo'—a campaign to vote for no one. In India poor people's movements in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh have rejected parliamentary politics (as well as the NGO and Maoist alternatives).
Analyzing the hybrid regimes in the period 1981-2006, the political scientist Ian O. Smith concluded that an election boycott by the opposition could increase the chances that the ruling party will lose future elections. Gregory Weeks noted that some authoritarian regimes in Latin America were prolonged due to the boycott of the opposition. Gail Buttorff and Douglas Dion explain that boycotts by the opposition under authoritarianism have led to different outcomes, sometimes predicting regime change and sometimes to make stronger the current government.