Accepted Paper:

Promoting Local Government within the Framework of Democracy Promotion Policy  


Zulfiyya Abdurahimova-Carberry (Harvard University)

Paper long abstract:

This project focuses on decentralization programs in Azerbaijan within the framework of democracy promotion policy (DPP) by Western donors. Starting 1960s Western donors have funded hundreds of decentralization programs in almost every corner of the world within the framework of development aid (which was called democracy assistance programs starting 1980s). The US democracy promoters have implemented dozens of local government assistance programs in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s and in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in 1990s. The rationale behind these programs was to counterbalance the power of the dominant executive in the recipient country. In the early 1960s, the focus of the decentralization efforts was administrative, the transfer of functional responsibilities, and financial, the transfer of responsibility for government spending. In the 1980s decentralization programs promoted political decentralization, meaning transferring accountability and representation to the local level, through local elections. In this project, I examine all three types of decentralization projects—administrative, financial, and political.

Findings of works on decentralization in the academic and policy community are mixed although the majority of studies show that the impact of the decentralization programs is weak and did not achieve the desired result, which was reducing the power accumulation in the central executive's hand. The up to date literature review indicates an unintended outcome across cases: locally powerful becomes beneficiary of decentralization. Examining the challenges to and the reasons of the unintended outcome of decentralization in Azerbaijan, I argue that such programs are designed and implemented without considering the local context and left without monitoring and help for the consolidation in the hands of the old elite.

This is a qualitative research and the primary sources will be the official documents of DPP by the Western donors; results as well as variations of the results in the local elections; interviews with locals who have experienced land purchase during the Soviet Union and after introducing the local governments (main source of corruption in the regions), with local government officials, people who have been in the election observation mission and/or election committee in the local elections. A review of a published bibliography of more than 500 studies written until 1983 and dozens of additional studies on decentralization from the 1990s onward show that there is no comprehensive study on decentralization in Azerbaijan. My research project aims to fill this gap.

Panel POL-13
Regional Context and Local Transformations in the Caucasus