Election which is a procedure that allows members of an organization or community to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it for a specific period of time is an integral part of constitutional democracy.
Elections are not only a mechanism to peacefully resolve the transfer of political power but they are also the basis for democratic legitimacy.
For election to be credible, it has to be inclusive, transparent, accountable and competitive. Election process is made up of multiple components and public confidence in each step of the components is critical to the integrity of such election.
A well-organized electioneering process underscores the vigour of a country or a people’s commitment to democracy. Therefore, in a politically stable society, there is always the need to take active part in an election campaign, especially as, or on behalf of, a candidate for political office.
To participate in election is to have a say in the government and contribute in the art of governance so one can ordinarily question why someone should come up with the idea of election boycott!
The term boycott which is “the refusal of a group to trade or associate with another group, an individual, an organization, or a nation, first appeared in the late 19th century, after Irish tenants objected to the oppressive rent-collection policies of a British land agent, Captain Charles Boycott. The angry tenants refused to work the lands and isolated him both economically and socially.”
The purpose of a boycott is to bring about some changes desired by its initiators. Although the most frequent use of the boycott is in labour disputes, it has also been used as a weapon in consumer affairs, social problems, personal relations, and international affairs.
Boycott initiators often attempt to enlist the support of friendly or neutral sections of the population, as, for example, when democratic groups in various countries refused to purchase goods from National Socialist Germany before World War II.”
According to Wikipedia, 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.” There is also abstention and abstentionism which means an individual not voting and running in an election to a deliberative assembly but refusing to take any seats won respectively!
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.
From the above, the call for election boycott is inevitable in an exploitative system where democracy faces periodic accusations of corruption, nepotism and gross injustice and operates in a multiparty system that favours unstable coalitions.
Election boycott is a tool used to press home for something within a system. The essence of it is to call the attention of international and local observers.
Individuals and parties boycott election 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. The aim is primarily to make the government illegitimate and lose credibility before the international community.
It can also be used to push for self-determination and an independent nation as being championed, in the present Nigeria case, by IPOB which has generated much discussion for and against such call with some people vocally condemning the proponents, calling them names!
But Sharat and Sukanto in ‘Why Election Boycott? A Theoretical, Historical Analysis’ pertinently asked, “If boycott is then the most practical alternative during the electoral process to take the masses on to a new path for their emancipation, why should not the people of this country have as much democratic right to boycott as to participate?
Why should the powers that be get so paranoiac when someone begins campaigning for the people to boycott the elections? Surely if they say that there is free choice, there should be equal rights to participate or to boycott.”
The question we should earnestly ask ourselves now is: Why this call for election boycott? Are there real or imaginary causes to it? How can the causes be justly addressed, when, where, how and by who and for what purpose?
For election boycott to be adjudged successful, first there must be an intensive orientation and absolute encouragement for people to register for vote and indeed get their permanent voters card which can be used to know the number of electorates because without ascertaining the number of eligible electorates one cannot estimate the impact of the boycott.
Therefore to embark on election boycott, there is need to have a huge number of registered voters. This way the effect of the boycott can be measured when a good number of those that registered and are eligible to vote refused to vote.
Election boycott can only be successful where there is a massive registration as well as a massive boycott. And there will be credibility questions when less than one-third of registered voters voted!
On this note, the major work of IPOB now should be to mobilize the public especially its supporters to come out in mass to register for vote not to discourage them from participating in the ongoing voters’ registration exercise.
However, Frankel Matthew argued that the boycott tactic 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.
One of the disadvantages of election boycott is that whether one participates or not, election will still hold and a winner must emerge but without one’s input.
The danger here is that wrong people will assume leadership and subsequently come up with wrong policies that will alienate and annihilate the people the more so in the final analysis, the call for election boycott is a defeatist approach.
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