Luis Vicente Leon on Blocked Elections and Exit Costs

David Smilde

Venezuela’s leading pollster Luis Vicente Leon is also one of Venezuela’s most read columnists. Today on the blog, he wrote a piece looking at the Maduro government’s current incentive context, called “You Tell Me Where We Are.”

In it he points out that in most democracies “exit costs” are low in the sense that a party that is voted out usually does not lose everything and has a chance to return to power. In contrast, the costs of blocking elections to prevent defeat are high, as breaking the basic norms of democracy can open a Pandora’s box.

But, asks Leon, what happens if this situation is inverted? He describes such a context and asks the reader if it is recognizable as Venezuela’s situation. Here is a translation of the last two paragraphs of the piece.

But what happens if the political system is not an integral democracy but rather an authoritarian government that concentrate’s power? Things get more complicated. The more control the government has, and the more accustomed it is to being in charge and doing what it wants, without checks and balances, its exit costs increase ad infinitum. It is not just the power that it loses, which is already sufficiently great to stimulate radical measures of protection. It is that their current actions represent a future threat to their liberty, their personal safety, and their patrimony, unless their exit is guaranteed by a negotiation, which will only happen if there is no other alternative.

If, in addition, the adversary of this government is structurally weak, fractured, disarticulated, unarmed and without solid leaders, and the government achieves a utilitarian relationship with the armed sector of the country, the costs of blocking and electoral exit, and even the cost of repression, is low and tempting. In that case reality is located in the perverse quadrant: high exit costs that convert the government into an army of Kamikazes, and low costs for blocking peaceful solutions, which stimulates the use of institutional force to avoid any election that cannot be won, controlled, or manipulated. You tell me where we are.