Decentralization, electoral competition and local government performance in Mexico
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This dissertation investigates the factors that cause local governments in Mexico to improve their performance. Drawing on a variety of theoretical frameworks, the study concentrates on the ability of competitive elections to motivate policymakers to enhance the quality of local governance, under the assumption that the threat of being removed from office compels local governments to be more accountable to their electorate. In the Mexican case, where the consecutive reelection of local mayors is constitutionally forbidden, it is hypothesized that the connection between electoral competition and government performance stems from the motivation of municipal presidents to assure the victory of their party in the subsequent election. In addition, the dissertation analyzes to what extent the variations in local government performance are explained by demanddriven factors, such as better educated and highly mobilized citizens. The four performance dimensions analyzed in the study are the rates of coverage of basic services under the responsibility of municipal governments, the willingness and ability of municipal officials to build up the institutional capacity of local bureaucratic apparatuses, the formulation of local spending choices, and the enforcement of taxing authority. The hypotheses in this dissertation are tested with the aid of multivariate statistical techniques on the basis of data covering the majority of Mexican municipalities throughout the period 1990-2001. The research also involved the use of qualitative methods, such as semi-structured interviews with state and local officials, and a focus group. The empirical evidence reveals that competitive elections have expanded the policymaking autonomy of local governments, and also have started to encourage them to increase their levels of investment on public works. In addition, the findings demonstrate that higher rates of basic literacy and voter turnout encourage local authorities to increase the provision of basic services, highlighting the fact that governments are substantially responsive to the pressures of mobilized citizens. However, a highly mobilized political environment may obstruct the institutionalization of municipal governments, particularly when they face strong incentives to use patronage for the allocation of public resources.