Violation of Bright Lines, Term Limit Evasion and Information Control

JunHyeok Jang (University of California, Merced)

Abstract: Constitutional “bright lines” are generally thought to serve as an important guard against democratic breakdown, because violations of these “bright line” institutions provide a focal point that facilitates mass coordination against a leader. In countries with term limits---one of the most adopted constitutional bright lines in a presidential system--- however, term limit evasions without subsequent mass mobilization are prevalent in practice. I argue that a focal point is not enough for actual engagement in a mass protest. Oppositions also need information about the probability of incentivized oppositions participating in protests and the logistics about when, where, and how to protest. Given the information can be accessed when the freedom of expression exists, a leader seeking an indefinite tenure through the term limit evasion will constrain the free flow of information to deter mass coordination. I first test this hypothesis by estimating causal effects using a matching estimator for TSCS data and showing term limit evasions result in a significant decrease in the freedom of expression. Furthermore, I provide the micro-evidence of information control by investigating how topics of opposition media in Venezuela change over time, using automated text analysis. The findings suggest that a leader evading term limits not only censors threatening information but also induces distractions, focusing more on apolitical topics such as sports.

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