The mechanisms of local governance in emerging democracies: A Case Study of Tunisia

Salih Yasun

This paper 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 stakeholders. What are the mechanisms of governance causing the divergent outcomes on the inclination of mayors to cooperate? I first employ Institutional Analysis Design (IAD) to outline the institutional structures in local governance settings among emerging democracies. Then I evaluate on the mechanisms that produce divergent inclinations to cooperate among mayors based on a set of qualitative data recently collected among 40 municipalities through interviews with mayors, city council members, civil society and a governor in Tunisia. The findings suggest that partisanship ties constitute the most substantive factor perpetuating hierarchical relations among the elected officials and political as well as administrative divisions of the central government, as they can generate conflicts or exclude citizens and other elected officials from the decision making process. The ties of mayors to the First Republic Regime do not generate much exclusion, as partisanship ties supersede the bureaucratic ties established among veteran officials. The findings carry implications for other emerging democracies and countries in Middle East and North Africa region which share similar institutional heritage with Tunisia and consider decentralizing local governance structures.