The Tempting Fallacy of Election Boycotts

The Tempting Fallacy of Election Boycotts
Algerian demonstrators protest the 2019 presidential election with banners in French that read “reject the election” and “the street will not be quiet,” in Algiers, Dec. 12, 2019 (AP photo by Toufik Doudou).

Editor’s Note: This is the web version of our subscriber-only weekly newsletter, Middle East Memo, which takes a look at what’s happening, what’s being said and what’s on the horizon in the Middle East. Subscribe to receive it by email every Monday. If you’re already a subscriber, adjust your newsletter settings to receive it.

As “weapons of the weak” go, boycotts hold a special pedigree. Gandhi used them in India’s struggle for independence to leverage overwhelming popular will against the British colonizers’ military superiority. The Montgomery bus boycott, organized by Martin Luther King Jr. from 1955 to 1956, showed white supremacists in Alabama and across the U.S. that Black Americans could and would yield their economic power in pursuit of their civil rights. Like a general strike, a boycott can transform diffuse popular sentiment into a targeted beam powerful enough to force political change.

Election boycotts, however, are a different matter altogether. Activists in Iraq are calling for such a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections in October because of an ongoing campaign of murder and intimidation against critics of the state. Dissidents also called for boycotts of last Friday’s presidential election in Iran and the June 12 parliamentary elections in Algeria; both of those contests featured historically low turnout.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review