This paper investigates the design of privatization mechanisms in emerging market economies characterized by political constraints that limit the set of viable privatization mechanisms. Our objective is to explain the striking diversity of privatization mechanisms observed in practice and the frequent use of an apparently suboptimal privatization mechanism: private negotiations. We develop a simple model wherein privatization is to be carried out by a government agent who plays favorites among bidders and is potentially disciplined by forthcoming elections. We find that it is the degree of political constraints that determines which mechanism is more successful in raising funds. If the political environment is such that the privatization agent himself aims at raising the fair value for the company, then privatization auctions and private negotiations are equally successful in raising public revenues. If, however, political constraints distort the agent’s incentives, then one mechanism outperforms the other. In particular, if the distortion is moderate, then private negotiations can raise more value for a successful enterprise than privatization auctions. In this case the agent may play favorites among the bidders, but t
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