The List: The World’s Ugliest Elections

Personal attacks and inaccurate accusations are flying as John McCain and Barack Obama “take the gloves off” in the home stretch of the U.S. presidential election, and Americans might have a hard time imagining that it could get any worse. But as voters in the following five countries can attest, it definitely can.




General Election, April 2007

The offenders: then President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and current President Umaru Musa YarAdua

How it got ugly: This comically flawed election dashed any hopes that Africas most populous country might lead the way for democratic reform throughout the region. President Obasanjo, thwarted in his desire for a third term by Nigerias Senate, spent his time feuding with his own vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who had presidential aspirations of his own. No longer on speaking terms, the two leaders relied on visiting journalists to hurl insults back and forth. Tell the vice president he is a crook, Obasanjo instructed a group of Western journalists. In response, Abubakar implored the reporters to tell the president, I cannot guarantee you there will be peaceful elections.

In the end, Obasanjo rigged the election to ensure the victory of his ally, Katsina state Governor YarAdua. Police officers were observed holding the ballot sheets of Nigerians as they made their selection, a practice officials referred to as helping the voters. Its not by any means a perfect election, Obasanjo noted philosophically, but there is no human arrangement you can describe as perfect until when we get to God and eternity.

Worst of the worst: Why Alhaji Umaru YarAdua (ie: A Pathological Liar, Hypocrite and Usurper) and the Satanic and Corrupt Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Must Go Now
the title of a book published by the Save Nigeria Campaign Organization, an independent funding organization that supports a political party, the Action Congress

Epsilon/Getty Images


Presidential Election, March 2008

The offender: Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky and a cast of minor-party provocateurs

How it got ugly: Dmitry Medvedev, outgoing President Vladimir Putins handpicked successor, coasted to victory in this race. Still, that didnt stop the far right from launching bizarre anti-Semitic attacks against him for his alleged Jewish background. (Medvedev is Russian Orthodox.) Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism, complained Nikolai Bondarik of the fringe Russian Party.

Although Medvedev remained above the fray, an assortment of second-tier candidates spent their time squabbling among each other, threatening legal action and occasionally coming to blows. These included the eccentric ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nearly unknown liberal Masonic Grand Master Andrei Bogdanov, and Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov. Zhirinovsky shot a cardboard cutout of Medvedev with a large-caliber rifle at a campaign rally, while Bogdanov stormed out of a televised debate after being unable to get a word in edgewise.

Worst of the worst: Hes a scoundrel! Look at his face! The guys sick! A typical schizoid! Any psychiatrist will tell you the guys a wacko.
Zhirinovsky to Bogdanovs campaign manager, Nikolai Gotsa, during a televised presidential debate on February 20. Zhirinovsky then pushed Gotsa offstage and ordered his bodyguard to take the man outside and shoot him.



Legislative Election, September 2008

The offenders: Heinz-Christian Straches Freedom Party of Austria

How it got ugly: Following the collapse of the grand coalition between the center-left Social Democratic Party and the center-right Peoples Party, Austrians headed to the polls for a snap election. The result was a huge setback for both parties. The far right, comprised of Heinz-Christian Straches Freedom Party and the recently deceased Jrg Haiders Alliance for the Future of Austria won a surprisingly high 30 percent of the vote.

Strache set a new low for a political scene where xenophobic and racist attacks are sadly not uncommon. He attacked the mainstream parties as traitors who sold out Austrians to foreigners. He accused the Social Democrats of making public housing easier to obtain for immigrants than native Austrians, saying, If you want an apartment, all you need is to be wearing a headscarf. Strache called for outlawing Islamic clothing in Austria, as well as a ban on the construction of minarets, and promised to prevent Austrian girls from being fondled by hordes of immigrants.

Worst of the worst: Many decent people have come here and they integrated: Poles, Hungarians, Croats and also Serbs. We are all European brothers because we do not want to become Islamized.
Strache, at his final campaign rally in Vienna on September 26. He went on to complain of women in Islamic dress running around like female ninjas.

Marty Melville/Getty Images

New Zealand

General Election, November 2008

The offenders: Third-party New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and some clever hackers

How it will get ugly: After governing New Zealand since 1999, the Labour Party faces high odds in its attempt to win its fourth consecutive election victory. The center-right National Party has consistently posted double-digit leads in the polls. The prospect of a transfer of power has contributed to an uncharacteristically bitter campaign. Third-party politicians, whose support is usually required to form a governing coalition, have been responsible for much of the campaigns vitriol.

Winston Peters has attacked both sides, claiming that the Labour governments free trade agreement with China had gone as sour as the milk in their baby-food products and referring to former investment banker and National Party leader John Key as a greedy merchant banker. New Zealands true innovation in mudslinging, however, has been electronic.

Worst of the worst: Thanks to a Google bombing campaign by Labour Party supporters, a Web search on for the word clueless returns John Keys Web site as the top result. National Party supporters retaliated, causing a search for Labour-funded lackeys to turn up a link to a pro-Labour newspaper.

JChina Photos/Getty Images


Presidential Election, March 2008

The offenders: The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT)

How it got ugly: Taiwanese campaigning has historically had the feel of a barroom brawl. When then President Chen Shui-bian of the DPP was shot at a campaign rally prior to the previous election, opposition partisans accused him of orchestrating the shooting to drum up sympathy. A week before the 2008 election, the KMT was on guard for a similar stunt, with party chairman Wu Po-hsiung warning that the number of dirty tricks that the DPP may resort to exceeds four or five hundred.

Indeed, DPP aides tried to smear KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou as a mainlander, due to his birth in Hong Kong, and alleged that the Chinese government had arranged for discounted airfare for China-based Taiwanese business executives wanting to return to vote for Ma. A DPP activist also accused Mas wife of stealing newspapers from Harvard Universitys library while she was a student there. The smear campaign did not pay off this time, as the KMT went on to regain the presidency in a landslide.

Worst of the worst: At a DPP rally on March 15, former chief secretary of the Ministry of Education, Chuang Kuo-rong, began ranting that Mas father had several affairs and had screwed his adopted daughter.

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