Cooperative Local Governance in Emerging Democracies: A Case Study of Tunisia

By Salih Yasun
Submitted to Session P5891 (Decentralization and Local Governance in Tunisia, 2020 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Tunisia;
Democratization;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
This study analyzes how the institutional arrangements among the central government and elected local agencies shape outcomes in local governance settings among emerging democracies. Despite implementing comprehensive decentralization laws, emerging democracies often achieve limited success in making local governance more inclusive for citizens and elected stakeholders. A potential factor limiting the inclusiveness is the disinclination of mayors to cooperate with the local stakeholders, or what can be termed as elite capture. What factors influence the inclination of mayors to cooperate, and what are their implications for transparent forms of governance? I answer these questions through a case study of Tunisia, where the local governance is struggling with clientelism and mass resignations of local council members following the implementation of the 2018 Municipal Law. I evaluate on the mechanisms that produce divergent inclinations of cooperation among mayors based on a set of qualitative data recently collected among 39 municipalities through interviews with mayors, city council members, civil society and a governor in socio-economically divergent governorates of El Kef, Gabes, Monastir, Sfax, Tunis and Ariana. I evaluate on their implications for transparency based on a Transparency Index developed by an Independent Civil Society Organization (al-Bawsala) in Tunisia for all 350 municipalities. The findings from interviews suggest that partisanship ties constitute the most substantive factor perpetuating hierarchical relations among the elected officials and the appointed bureaucrats, as they can enable mayors to focus on large scale projects through partisan engagement at the expense of cooperative modes of governance at the local level. The ties of mayors to the former regime do not generate much exclusion, as they do not generate the political capital sufficient enough for mayors to close down upon the vertical relations at the local level. A mixed model analysis on the Transparency Index of municipalities within governorates where the partisanship ties are identified (n=174) indicates that the transparency score is lower in instances where an ideological overlap exists among the partisan affiliations of mayors and governors. In contrast, the score is higher when mayors and governors come from the opposite ideological backgrounds. In explaining the results, I argue that despite the volatile electoral environment in Tunisia partisan and ideological bondage provides the voluntary networks that internalize the externality deriving from the transaction costs of the hierarchical institutions.