Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boycotting the Russian election will achieve nothing

For what it's worth, the Russian people go to the polls to vote on March 18th (with a second round three weeks later in the unlikely case of no absolute majority winner). Or at least some of them do - many opposition supporters are calling for a boycott of the election, on the grounds that Putin had stacked the odds in his own favour, and any results will be marred by irregularities and fraud.
As usual, Vladimir Putin holds all the cards. Popular opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was gunned down under suspicious circumstances three of years ago. The current de facto opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been disqualified from taking part in the election due to a 2014 criminal conviction that his supporters say was trumped up by the Kremlin in order to sideline him and his threat to Putin's re-election. A late challenge by society gal Ksenia Sobchak, a popular figures but a political lightweight and family friend of Putin, is widely seen as a Putin-inspired play to split any remaining opposition.
Unfortunately, election boycotts just do not work. Perhaps they are a nice idea in theory: it gives an immediate message to human rights groups and the world at large that there is an unresolved issue, and they may conceivably help the protestors to obtain some minor concession. But in effect, the withdrawal of opposition votes just give the offending party an easy ride - it goes on to win legitimacy with minimal effort.
According to a major 2010 analysis of 171 recent cases, boycotts have just a 4% success rate. Examples across the world, from Egypt to Venezuela to South Africa to Lebanon, have drilled this point home.
Boycottting, the so-called "third option", is no option at all - it just throws away a vote, and voids the collective voice of dissent. How could it be otherwise? I don't have a good solution to the current impasse in Moscow, but I'm pretty sure an election boycott is not it.

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