Candidate attributes and political accountability: Evidence from Pakistan local government elections

Project Active from to State, Political Economy and Tax

  • Political party-based local elections are widely advocated as key to strengthening democracy, and their outcomes can significantly impact local economic development.
  • A randomised experiment to determine how locals in Punjab, Pakistan, choose to vote found that voters tend to prefer candidates with political connections over those who have proven to be competent, suggesting a need for greater accountability of local governments to their citizens.
  • These findings support new policy measures being used by the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) to build the capacity and accountability of local governments.

The aim of the study was to understand how local governments are accountable to their citizens and how citizen preferences link to public decisions so that effective mechanisms can be designed to strengthen local political accountability.

The study divided 2,975 voters of the Sargodha district into three groups and provided them with information on: performance of the current government; connectedness of local candidates to higher level politicians; and unrelated (placebo) information. Voters were surveyed regarding local candidates before and after being provided this information.

Local candidates with more political connections received more votes and were more likely to win, whereas there was no electoral benefit for candidates with previous records of public service. The results suggest a need for improved institutional oversight of local government.

Two key recommendations stemming from the study were the need to implement robust performance audits of local government and to also create a ‘challenge fund’ to encourage innovative solutions for increasing local electoral accountability. Both measures are part of the PFC's recommendations to the Punjab Government, who have agreed to implement them in two phases over 2017-2019.