Authoritarian state building through political decentralization and local government law

Evidence from the Islamic Republic of Iran


  • Kian Tajbakhsh



Iran, decentralization, local government law, nation-building, democracy


What motivates ideological authoritarian regimes to permit subnational elections? What mechanisms do these regimes employ to ensure that local electoral outcomes are favorable to the regime? Focusing on the decision to create a new tier of elected local government and the use of local government law, I argue that national elites can use local elections to strengthen state-building through increased institutionalization of mass political participation and by integrating local populations into the ambit of state controlled public goods provision. I illustrate this argument by analyzing elected local government in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I show how the state’s legal framework successfully constrains local actors in three contested domains: the scope of political participation, the extent of legislative authority, and the degree of fiscal autonomy. A major implication of these findings is that expanding participation through subnational elected government in an ideological Islamist regime contributes to authoritarian nation-state building.


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Author Biography

Kian Tajbakhsh

Columbia University. Contact details: Columbia University. Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, 1172 Amsterdam Avenue, New York (NY) 10027, USA.


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How to Cite

Tajbakhsh, K. (2018) “Authoritarian state building through political decentralization and local government law: Evidence from the Islamic Republic of Iran”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 10(5), pp. 1040–1074. doi: 10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-1029.