Top 10 Contested Elections
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Contested Elections.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most infamous and consequential cases in which election results were challenged by one or more candidates.
Which election would you vote for our top spot? Let us know in the comments.
#10: 2000 United States Presidential Election
At around 2:30 am on November 8, 2000, the networks declared Republican candidate George W. Bush as the next president. About two hours later, though, Democratic candidate Al Gore caught up to Bush by just under 2,000 votes in Florida. The margin was so close that a recount was legally required, although a 5–4 Supreme Court ruling stopped it. After almost a month of confusion, Bush was deemed the winner, but Gore might’ve won if the ballots had been tallied differently. The debacle led to the discontinuation of punched card ballots, but also greatly decreased Americans’ confidence in the electoral process. It also ramped up Republican accusations of voter fraud vs Democrat accusations of voter suppression, a debate that’s taken centre-stage today.
#9: 2008 Zimbabwean General Election
With unemployment up to 94% in 2008, Zimbabwe was struggling under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, who had been president of the African country for almost three decades. Mugabe faced his greatest political rival yet in Morgan Tsvangirai, giving some Zimbabweans hope that they’d finally have a new president. The results were controversially not released for more than a month, although Tsvangirai emerged ahead of Mugabe. It was only by a small margin, however, leading to a run-off and eventually violence. Fearing for his supporters, Tsvangirai withdrew and Mugabe remained in power. It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Mugabe’s own party staged a coup, ousting him from office. Then-Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would take Mugabe’s place, becoming Zimbabwe’s third president.
#8: 1990 Myanmar General Election
For the first time in 30 years, this Southeast Asian country held a multi-party election in 1990. Less than a year earlier, National League for Democracy candidate Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. That didn’t stop her from winning 392 out of 492 seats, more than exceeding the 247 required to secure a majority. In response to this unexpected victory, the military junta simply annulled the results. We guess that counts as “contesting” the election, although it’s a little more extreme. From 1989 to 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi stayed under house arrest for roughly 15 out of 21 years. She would win and assume office in 2016, to much international fanfare… that is, until accusations of massive human rights abuses followed.
#7: 2006 Mexican General Election
In Mexico, 2006 was defined by a controversial general election and the political crisis that followed. In an especially close race, National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderón beat opponent Andrés Manuel López Obrador by a 0.58 margin. Although López Obrador and the Party of the Democratic Revolution contested these results, the Federal Electoral Tribunal refused to do a total recount. Calderón was declared the victor, but López Obrador’s party wasn’t about to take this sitting down. What ensued was a whole year of political unrest, complete with protests that modelled after street fairs. Seriously, booths were set up where you could watch soccer, play chess, and listen to music.
#6: 2020 Belarusian Presidential Election
When candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky was arrested just months before this heated election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya decided to step up in her husband’s place. Tsikhanouskaya squared off against incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko, described in the press as “Europe’s last dictator.” Lukashenko, who’s been president since 1994, claimed a sixth term with an 80% vote, although Tsikhanouskaya and her followers challenged this landslide. They weren’t alone, with the EU, UK, Canada, and other countries also refusing to accept the results. Sanctions have been placed on Belarusian officials, with European Council President Charles Michel accusing them of “violence, repression and election fraud.” As of writing, protests are ongoing, Tsikhanouskaya was exiled to Lithuania, and the outcome remains up in the air.
#5: 2009 Iranian Presidential Election
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced three other candidates in his pursuit of a second term. Mir-Hossein Mousavi was largely seen as his most formidable rival, which made it all the more jarring when he only received 33.86% of the votes. While Ahmadinejad apparently pulled off a landslide of 62.63%, many suspected the incumbent president of rigging the election. Millions of Mousavi supporters took to the streets, the country’s biggest and most chaotic protests since the Iranian Revolution. It was dubbed the Iranian Green Movement, or Persian Spring. Public figures who voiced their support were arrested, including Mousavi, who remains under house arrest. To this day, supporters of the protest movement continue to agitate for reforms.
#4: 2007 Kenyan General Election
Early on, it appeared Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga was out in front of this election. Yet, it wasn’t long until incumbent Mwai Kibaki caught up with 46.4% of the vote, surpassing Odinga by a narrow margin. However, it was widely argued that the results were tampered with. While Kibaki was sworn in for a second term, civil unrest erupted across the country. Hundreds died, up to 600,000 were displaced, and havoc continued to spread for just over two months. The Kenyan crisis finally came to an end when Odinga and Kibaki reached an unconventional compromise to share power. Through the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, Kibaki remained President while Odinga became the country’s first Prime Minister in more than forty years.
#3: 2018 Venezuelan Presidential Election
Five years after a close and contested victory against Henrique Capriles Radonski, Nicolás Maduro found himself at the center of another intense election. Unlike last time, the “results” weren’t close, with Maduro claiming 67.8% of the vote against opponents Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci. However, Falcón and Bertucci cried foul, citing numerous irregularities. The National Assembly declared Maduro a “usurper” on the day of his inauguration, and named Speaker Juan Guaidó the acting president. This … didn’t go over well with Maduro’s followers. With the Venezuelan presidential crisis in full swing, Guaidó was briefly arrested. The dispute over Maduro’s presidency persists to this day.
#2: 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Election
The race between incumbent Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko was bitter to say the least. Not only did Yushchenko survive an assassination attempt, he was disfigured by dioxin poisoning. Although he’d recover, the campaign was just starting to get ugly, with accusations of ballot stuffing, falsification, and intimidation. The election results were so close that a run-off was held. With Russia’s support, Yanukovych was deemed the winner, which Yushchenko challenged. For weeks, thousands of protesters assembled at Kiev’s Independence Square, sparking the Orange Revolution. The Ukrainian Supreme Court thus held a second run-off, with Yushchenko prevailing this time. Yanukovych would be elected president in 2010, but exit office early due to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
Before we tally the votes for our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
2019 Bolivian General Election
Evo Morales Declared the Winner, Leading to Protests & His Resignation
2014 Turkish Local Elections
Protests, Violence & Electoral Fraud Accusations Ensued
2006 Italian General Election
Yet Another Scandal for Silvio Berlusconi
2016 United States Presidential Election
There Are Sore Losers & Then There Are Sore Winners
1987 Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly Election
This Rigged Election Was a Catalyst for the Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir
#1: 1876 United States Presidential Election
The U.S. has seen its fair share of contested elections, although this was a particularly bizarre case. Why? Because both Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden declared victory. While Tilden was ahead with 184 electoral votes, disputes arose in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Rejecting the results, Republicans accused Democrats of intimidating Black voters. The Democrats agreed to accept Hayes as President if the Republicans pulled federal troops from the Southern states. With the south back under Democrat control, the Reconstruction era was brought to an end and years of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement followed. Although this is generally known as the Compromise of 1877, some historians feel “The Great Betrayal” is a more appropriate name.