Political parties and decentralization in Pakistan

Sameen A Mohsin Ali, Mariam Mufti

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Why do politicians vote to decentralize power and resources? Drawing on structuralist and voluntarist approaches, we investigate why national party elites in Pakistan voted to devolve power to the provinces under the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution but are hesitant to devolve meaningful fiscal and administrative power to the local level. We argue that the explanation for this disjuncture lies in Pakistan’s history of military experiments with local government, its candidate-centered party system, and the re-election incentives of politicians at the national, provincial and local levels. Using interviews with local government representatives, politicians, and bureaucrats, and archival research through National Assembly, Senate debates and newspapers, we show that devolution to the provinces was a means of holding a fragile federation together. However, Pakistan’s political parties, unable to elicit credible commitment from their legislators, feared that devolving power further could result in party defections, the rise of regional leaders, and inevitably, party fragmentation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPublius: The Journal of Federalism
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2021


  • decentralization
  • federalism
  • Pakistan
  • political elites
  • political parties


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