Oleh: Rudy | September 20, 2007

Political Dimension of Decentralization

The political context of decentralization has been linked to democratization with an emphasis on giving citizens more voice in shaping public resource allocation (Smoke, Gomez, and Peterson, 2006). Decentralization and democracy are engaged in an intricate dance. Over the past two decades, nascent democracies in the developing world have designed and worked with new decentralization programs in order to increase participatory governance (Gomez, 2006). In attempting to assess how effective these new initiatives have been in achieving these objectives, scholars have begun to unravel and explain the political logic of decentralization (Samuel and Montero, 2003; Willis et. al., 1999).

Samoff (1990) defines political decentralization as the transfer of decision-making authority to previously “under-represented or marginal groups” and perceives it as an effort to determine who rules and who has access to decision-making. Furniss (1974) identifies two forms of legal decentralization. The first is to establish new elected authorities “without the diminution of central functions or prerogatives”, while the other is to transfer power from the center to other new entities.

Moreover, Rondinelli (1990) suggests a representative government, citizen participation, and democratization as factors correlated with political decentralization. Jun and Wright (1996) add self-governing, self-determination, local independence, home rule, and political autonomy to situations expressing decentralization. Political decentralization is created when major functions and activities are distributed between the central and local governments. Local units are autonomous and have authority to make independent decisions without any intervention from the central government. Therefore, political decentralization aims to empower local units through transferring power or authority over decision-making.

For many scholars, especially Manor (1999), the political dimension of decentralization is a necessary condition to establish decentralization in general. The objectives of decentralization, as stated by Smith (1985), are to ensure support for development policies by making them better known at the local level and to produce greater participation in development planning and management. Decentralization is to transfer power to local governments by eliminating administration concentration at the center. It has various structures enabling the combination of different functions. Under decentralization, authority is delegated and power is devolved to local governments. Autonomy given to territorial units and democracy of decision-making are important components of political decentralization.

Along with this, Smith (1985) also mentions that politically, decentralization could strengthen accountability, political skills, and national integration by bringing government closer to people. Moreover, it provides training ground for citizen participation and political leadership, both local and national. In brief, scholars such as Jones (1985), Cheema and Rondinelli (1983) and Crook and Manor (1998) argue that decentralization and the creation of local governments reflect a commitment to pluralism, as well as promoting democracy.


Cheema, G. Shamir and Dennis A. Rondinelli. 1983. Decentralization and Development: Policy Implementation in Developing Countries. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publication.

Crook, Richard C. and James Manor. 1998. Democracy and Decentralization in South Asia and West Africa: Participation, Accountability, and Performance. Cambridge University Press.

Furniss, Norman, 1974. “The Practical Significance of Decentralization.” Journal of Politics 36 (4): 958-982.

Gomez, Eduardo. J. 2006. “Decentralization’s Horizontal, Vertical, and Policy-Fluctuation Mechanism: Method for Cross Regional Analysis.” In Paul Smoke, Eduardo J Gomez, and George E. Peterson eds. Decentralization in Asia and Latin America: Toward Comparative Interdisciplinary Perspective. UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Jones, George. 1985. “Conclusion: Implication for Policy and Institutions. In Stewart Ranson. George Jones, and Kieron Walsh eds. Between Centre and Locality: The Politics of Public Policy. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Jun, Jong S. and Wright, Deil S. 1996. “Globalization and Decentralization: An Overview.” In Jun, Jong S. and Wright, Deil S. eds. 1996. Globalization and Decentralization: Institutional Context, Policy Issues, and Intergovernmental Relations in Japan and the Unites States. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Manor, J. 1999. The Political Economy of Democratic Decentralization. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Rondinelli. 1990. Decentralizing Urban Development Programs: A Framework for Analyzing Policy. Washington DC: Office of Housing and Urban Programs of the US Agency for International Development.

Samoff, J. 1990. “Decentralisation: The Politics of Interventionism.” Development and Change, 21, 513-530.

Samuels, D. and A. Montero. 2003. Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Smith, B.C., 1985. Decentralization: The Territorial dimension of The State London: George Allen and Unwin.

Smoke, Paul, Eduardo J Gomez, and George E Peterson. 2006. “Understanding Decentralization: The Need for a Broader Approach.” In Paul Smoke, Eduardo J Gomez, and George E. Peterson eds. Decentralization in Asia and Latin America: Toward Comparative Interdisciplinary Perspective. UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Willis, E., C. Da, C. Garman, and S. Haggard. 1999. The Politics of Decentralization in Latin America. Latin American Research Review 34 (1), pp. 7-56.



  1. thanks a lot for your writing about decentralization
    I’m really impressed

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