The Paradox of Local Empowerment: Decentralization and Democratic Governance in Mexico

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2006-03-14

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This dissertation examines whether decentralization to municipal governments in Mexico has improved democratic governance. The research examines the effects of decentralization on democratic governance in three Mexican cities: Tijuana, Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, and Chilpancingo and draws on key national indicators.

The findings indicate that decentralization has significantly increased the authority and autonomy of Mexican municipalities, but that these changes have not necessarily led to local governments that are responsive and accountable to citizens or allow for citizens' active engagement in public affairs. Further analysis of these findings suggests that municipal political institutions create few incentives for public authorities to be responsive and accountable to citizens. The use of closed party lists, prohibitions on independent candidacies, guaranteed supermajorities for the leading party, and the prohibition on reelection all combine to undermine accountability and responsiveness. In this environment, public authorities tend to be more concerned about party leaders than citizens. As a result, citizens continue to be linked to local governments through political brokers within the principal political parties and there are few real opportunities for citizen engagement outside of these mediated channels despite the nominal existence of elaborate participatory planning processes.

Nonetheless, the study also finds marked differences in the way that citizens are linked to the political system in different cities. Where strong social organizations existed prior to decentralization, citizens are more likely to have effective, albeit indirect, channels for voice in public affairs. Where these social organizations are linked closely to the principal political parties, they are even more likely to influence public policy than where these organizations are highly autonomous. Strong social organizations provide a necessary basis for ensuring citizen voice, but their linkages to the political process ultimately determine whether they are effective in influencing policy decisions. In other words, horizontal linkages in civil society--social capital--are a necessary precondition for good democratic governance, but vertical linkages between citizens and political actors are equally important.

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