Sanctions, Benefits, and Rights: Three Faces of Accountability
As countries throughout the world democratize and decentralize, citizen participation in public life should increase. In this paper, I suggest that democratic participation in local government is enhanced when citizens can reply affirmatively to at least three questions about their ability to hold local officials accountable for their actions: Can citizens use the vote effectively to reward and punish the general or specific performance of local public officials and/or the parties they represent? Can citizens generate response to their collective needs from local governments? Can citizens be ensured of fair and equitable treatment from public agencies at local levels? The findings of a study of 30 randomly selected municipalities in Mexico indicate that, over the course of a decade and a half, voters were able to enforce alternation in power and the circulation of elites, but not necessarily to transmit unambiguous messages to public officials or parties about performance concerns. More definitively, citizens were able to build successfully on prior political experiences to extract benefits from local governments. At the same time, the ability to demand good performance of local government as a right of citizenship lagged behind other forms of accountability.
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