Demand for Constitutional Decentralization

Eric Alston (University of Colorado Boulder)

Abstract: Increasingly, decentralization has proven to be a policy fix selected by developing countries whose new governments represent a significant regime change. This analysis adds to the literature on decentralization by identifying the extent to which factors that lead to divergent policy preferences result in greater definition of decentralization in a given constitution. The principle of subsidiarity suggests that the more localities and regions vary from each other, either in terms of population, language, religion, or resource endowments, the more likely these populations’ policy preferences differ. If this implication holds, one would expect the benefits of subsidiarity, and hence, decentralization to increase in such situations. As a result, one would expect pressures for decentralization on constitutional drafters to increase with a country’s size, population, terrain ruggedness, number of ethnicities and religions, and regional variance in wealth. I test several aspects of this hypothesis, based upon initial data from 48 Muslim countries’ constitutions. Beyond the noteworthy conclusion that population is more important than territorial size in determining constitutional definition of subnational government, the results also suggest linguistic divides play an important role in determining the heterogeneity of policy preferences within a given nation, more so than simple ethnic diversity.

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