Many governments are devolving power to elected local councils, hoping to improve service delivery and citizen representation by bringing officials closer to the people. While these decentralization reforms hold the promise of improved governance, they also present national and sub-national leaders with a complex array of options about how to structure newly empowered local political institutions. This article draws on cross-national experience and the latest research to identify the trade-offs inherent in structuring local political institutions. The study’s specific interest is in the impact of strong, locally elected councils on governance and representation. Proceeding from an empirical basis that competitive elections are vital for the legitimacy and efficiency of local political institutions, the analysis first questions the impact of four institutional features – central versus local control, local executive versus local council authority, local council structure, and the role of parties – on service provision and fiscal solvency. The article’s second section analyses the impact of decentralization on political representation, with a particular focus on the role of institutional design in combating the threat of extremist parties. A final section summarizes empirical findings and advances some policy-relevant conclusions.
Hankla, Charles R. and Downs, William M., "Decentralization, Governance, and the Structure of Local Political Institutions: Lessons for Reform?" (2010). Political Science Faculty Publications. 14.