Political institutions and local public goods: evidence from a field experiment in Indonesia

Political institutions and local public goods: evidence from a field experiment in Indonesia

Elections or participatory processes – which is given more legitimacy?

Decentralisation processes in the developing world have raised question about how local political processes affect the provision of local public goods. This paper explores how different local political mechanisms affect the satisfaction of community members in Indonesia. The research argues that deliberative processes such as elections are more favourable among citizens than participatory approaches.

The author conducted a randomised field experiment in 48 Indonesian villages that were each in the process of applying for village infrastructure funds. Villages were randomly assigned one of two political mechanisms for choosing projects, either a representative meeting-based mechanism or a direct election-based mechanism. The research finds that the election-based mechanism resulted in dramatically higher satisfaction, increased knowledge about the project chosen, greater perceived benefits from the project, and higher reported willingness among villagers to contribute supplementary funds and labour to the project. The paper also finds that the political mechanisms used had little effect on the actual type and/or location of the project chosen, with some evidence suggesting that direct elections resulted in projects located in poorer, but less isolated, areas of villages.

The paper concludes that direct participation in political decision making can substantially increase legitimacy, even if it has relatively little effect on the ultimate decisions taken.

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