You should never take your political opponents for granted or presume that any election is signed, sealed and delivered. Overconfidence leads to complacency and complacency can result in problems.
There is no better example of this than what took place in the general and regional elections of 2011 in Guyana.
The supporters of the ruling party could not envisage anything but a landslide victory. After all, the country had been enjoying prosperous times; its best years ever and the opposition had done poorly five years earlier. The PPP expected to sweep the polls. There was even talk about a sixty per cent support for the ruling party.
That seemed likely given the low-keyed election campaign of the main opposition partnership which seemed short of cash to run its campaign.
The supporters of the government took too much for granted. Scores of them decided that they did not need to turn out to vote, that victory was assured. They could not contemplate the possibility of a massive showing for a failed political party like the PNCR which when during its rule had brought Guyana to economic destruction. It was the PPP which brought Guyana back to economic viability and its best years ever. So the supporters of the PPP asked themselves: Why the PPP should not win the elections easily?
They took too much for granted. Complacency hurt them. They won the elections but narrowly failed to gain a majority in the National Assembly. Now all Guyana is paying the price for that loss of a parliamentary majority.
The reason why the opposition did so well in Guyana was because they had a much higher voter turnout in their strongholds that the ruling party had in theirs. And with the AFC campaigning smartly, it got sufficient seats to deny the PPP the majority.
The Chavistas in Venezuela should have learnt from the experience of Guyana. They presumed that they had the election safely wrapped up. Buoyed by the sympathy vote, they predicted another landslide against a presumed weaker opposition than the one the late Hugo Chavez comfortably defeated last October.
The Chavistas took things for granted and in Sunday’s election, the lines were generally shorter in their strongholds than they were in the opposition’s strongholds. The Chavistas were complacent and the end result was that their leader barely scraped home with the Presidency by a mere two percentage points when opinion polls had given him a commanding double digit lead going into the final week of the elections.
Once again the turnout rate was the defining factor that allowed the opposition to come close to ending the Bolivarian Revolution.
There are important lessons that both Maduro and Ramotar can learn from the elections in their countries. The first of these is that they should not take things for granted. Every vote counts and they should not allow complacency to develop during elections because in both countries there is ruthless opposition that will overturn all that has been built upon over the past twenty years.
The second lesson is that a successor leader cannot be expected to enjoy automatically the support of his predecessor. Donald Ramotar has been involved in politics for a long time but he was not very conspicuous in government prior to the 2011 elections and as such while his party’s supporters railed for him the critical swing votes did not know much of him. They still do not know much of him today.
In the case of Maduro, he was expected to enjoy a sympathy vote. But he was never going to be as popular as Chavez and therefore this needed to be factored into his alliance’s political calculations.
He is now facing a grave situation whereby his victory was so narrow that the opposition is going to use this as the basis for questioning his legitimacy even though, like the opposition in Guyana, it knows that it lost but still want to create problems.
He will rule with the cloud of two per cent majority over him for the next six years.
In the case of Guyana, the PPP knows that the opposition peaked in 2011 and the opposition knows that it will never be able to better that performance. The PPP however still has to get out its voters and avoid that situation that happened in 2011 when these supporters could not envisage that the opposition would have done so well.
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