Finding the right balance: Hyperdecentralization in Hungary from a comparative perspective

Date of Completion

January 2005


Political Science, General




Independently elected local governments are very much part of the political landscape of modern democracies and Hungary is no exception since communism collapsed. While they are varied and numerous, our understanding of local democratic institutions is quite limited. In order to partially fill this intellectual void in this dissertation, the author analyzed the role of local governments in the Hungarian political system from a comparative perspective. Local governments can play a dual role: infuse popular control over local public matters and increase the quality of governance. However, decentralization will not necessarily do either without careful design. This dissertation highlights that decentralization should be studied from a perspective which goes beyond simplistic approaches such as whether decentralization is good or bad per se. ^ The quality of local governance was measured through transparency, management capacities, and gender representation. After a careful review of several statistical models, a set of important characteristics emerged that significantly affected local governance. The size of the municipality, level of economic development, vitality of the local media, and civic culture were all positively related to the overall quality of local governance. Local governments that are larger have better mechanisms to improve transparency than do smaller local governments. These include media outlets and civic society organizations and those make up for the loss of proximity to their residents and act as more reliable means to achieve local transparency in larger municipalities. ^ A very important general finding of this study is that local governments fulfilled their democratic role in that they tend to have a local focus on politics. Even significant transfers of resources from the center do not correlate with a lack of local focus in policy making. Interested residents are cited as having the most significant influence on local decision-making. ^ This dissertation extends the scope of our understanding of local governance by introducing gender representation as an important aspect of local democracy. The case of Hungary supports the findings of others that often there is a substantial difference in the number of female representatives found at national and subnational elected bodies, in favor of the localities. Local politics provide attractive opportunities and easier access for women. Better descriptive representation is important as it may reflect the significant differences between women and men's perceptions of the nature of the role of the state, women allowing greater role for the state in the economy and social welfare. ^