GLD Working Papers

Local Political Priorities during Tunisia’s First Democratic Municipal Elections

Alexandra Domike Blackman, Julia Clark, and Aytuğ Şaşmaz


In May 2018, Tunisia held the country’s first democratic local elections to elect representatives to the country’s 350 municipal councils. Democratic consolidation depends, in part, on the development of municipal councils that can aggregate and process diverse societal interests at the local level, as well as on the ability of political candidates and politicians to represent and respond to citizens’ priorities. In this paper, we examine the local development priorities of candidates and citizens. We find that, overall, the municipal election candidates’ local priorities for governance do broadly correspond to those of citizens. For both candidates and citizens, the top four local issues are local roads, waste and the environment, local jobs, and security. Given the use of gender and age electoral quotas, we also examine how individual-level characteristics, such as gender and age, are correlated with the local development priorities of candidates and citizens. We find that women and youth do hold different priorities than their older and male counterparts, both at the citizen and candidate level. Accordingly, the quotas may improve substantive as well as descriptive representation. Finally, we examine the congruence of candidate and citizen priorities. We find a notable gap in local political priorities between candidates and citizens, particularly over employment and local security issues: citizens place a greater emphasis on employment than candidates and candidates place a greater emphasis on security. Drawing on interviews with municipal council candidates and surveys of both candidates and citizens, we argue that these differences result from the patterns of selection into political candidacy and confusion over the mandate of local councillors.

How Does Punishment Affect Reintegration? Attitudes Toward Islamic State "Collaborators" in Iraq

Mara Redlich Revkin and Kristen Kao


How does variation in the severity of punishment affect public opinion toward the reintegration of former nonviolent offenders? We study this question in the context of Iraq, where the United States has been heavily involved in the design and development of criminal justice institutions since overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003. Building upon extensive fieldwork and interviews in Iraq, we designed a survey experiment that randomly varied the severity of sentences in hypothetical scenarios of nonviolent Islamic State “collaborators” (e.g., cleaners, cooks, and wives of fighters) to estimate the causal effects of punishment on attitudes toward reintegration. We find that a long prison sentence (15 years) does not increase the participants’ willingness to allow the reintegration of former offenders, but a noncarceral punishment (community service) has a small, but statistically significant, positive effect. Our most striking finding is that noncarceral and community-based justice mechanisms can significantly increase the likelihood of successful reintegration after punishment. Fifteen percent of respondents who were initially opposed to the return of former offenders to their communities said that they would be willing to support reintegration if they were asked to do so by a tribal or religious leader, or if the offender completes a noncarceral rehabilitation program. These findings suggest that noncarceral, restorative, and community-based justice mechanisms may be equally or more effective than long-term incarceration for achieving the objectives of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former nonviolent offenders. Our study also advances the field of comparative empirical legal scholarship by providing an innovative experimental research design that can be replicated by scholars studying the causal effects of criminal justice policies in other contexts. 

The Impact of Presidential Appointment of Judges: Montesquieu or the Federalists?

Sultan Mehmood


A central question in development economics is whether there are adequate checks and balances on the executive. This paper provides causal evidence on how increasing constraints on the executive, through the removal of Presidential discretion in judicial appointments, promotes the rule of law. The age structure of judges at the time of the reform and the mandatory retirement age law provide us with an exogenous source of variation in the removal of Presidential discretion in judicial appointments. According to our estimates, Presidential appointment of judges results in additional land expropriations by the government worth 0.14 percent of GDP every year. (JEL D02, O17, K11, K40).

Media Bias, Kurdish Repression, and the Dismantling of Local Democracy in Turkey

Melissa Marschall and Saadet Konak Unal


In this article, we explore how heightened repression and the consolidation of power by the executive branch in Turkey have allowed Erdoğan to take steps that further undermine the country’s democratic evolution. We argue that Erdoğan’s increasing pressure on the media, along with the state of emergency following the 2016 coup attempt, facilitated the repression of Kurdish municipalities. Focusing on the targeting of HDP mayors by the central government, we describe the political process leading to the purge of elected mayors and the normalization of the trustee system (kayyım) at the local level. We then conduct a content analysis of news articles to empirically examine potential bias in Turkish news outlets’ reporting. Our findings demonstrate differences in the content and framing of articles published by national and international news outlets concerning HDP co-mayors’ events and the takeover of their municipalities. We find that Turkish news outlets overwhelmingly promote the AKP party line, rarely provide balanced reporting, and propagate a ‘Kurds as terrorists’ frame.

Municipal Boundaries and the Politics of Space in Tunisia

Intissar Kherigi


This paper examines Tunisia’s 2015-17 municipal boundary reform process, undertaken in preparation for the decentralization process mandated under the 2014 constitution. It analyzes how municipal boundary decisions were made, the actors who were involved, and the logic that shaped the reform process. Through extensive fieldwork in the capital, Tunis, and in eight municipalities around Tunisia, this paper explores how the underpinning logics of national decision-making collide with the spatial realities of local actors. This paper argues that the municipal boundary reforms were guided by a combination of security-based and clientelist logics that imposed centralized conceptions of space and failed to engage with territories as lived spaces. Furthermore, it argues that, by failing to address the social, economic and spatial implications of boundary reforms, the reforms contributing to producing a despatialized decentralization process that ultimately has little meaning for residents and proves problematic for the resulting municipalities and their constituent relations. The process thus replicates many of the same logics and conceptions of space that have shaped territorial governance since the colonial era.