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The Reformer's Dilemmas: The Politics of Public Sector Reform in Clientelistic Political Systems Open Access

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In clientelistic political systems, reforms to reduce corruption in the public sector are impeded by two central dilemmas. First, the politician’s dilemma, or tradeoff between the electoral gains from patronage and gains from public goods provision, creates an incentive for political elites to advertise public sector reform without any intention to implement or enforce it. This incentive compounds a second dilemma of coordination among political elites and employees in the state administration, all of whom are unsure that other members of their cohort are willing to forgo the political benefit of corruption for public sector reform. Public sector reform in clientelistic political systems is therefore a problem of credible commitment by competing political and economic elites.Political party building is one mechanism that facilitates emerging challengers’ credible commitment to reform. Emerging reformers that build interest-aggregating parties by incorporating constituencies outside traditional patron-client networks using programmatic or ideological appeals are better able to credibly commit to reform. Conversely, challengers, even with reform intentions, who build parties by aggregating patron-client brokers with narrow political and economic interests will have greater difficulty credibly committing to reform.To demonstrate this argument, I employ a controlled-comparison process tracing of three cases of public sector reform efforts in highly clientelistic political systems—Ukraine following the 2004 Orange Revolution, the Republic of Georgia following the 2003 Rose Revolution, and Ukraine following the 2014 Euromaidan protests. In each case, I trace the effect of challengers’ early party-building decisions on the eventual reform outcomes. In Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko developed the Our Ukraine electoral bloc by aggregating existing parties and economic elites, maintaining the problem of credible commitment that impeded reforms following the Orange Revolution. In contrast, in Georgia, Mikheil Saakasvhili developed a political party by incorporating new constituencies, facilitating a credible commitment to reforms that produced the most significant public sector reforms among the three cases. Finally, in Ukraine following the Euromaidan protests, the dominant parties remained aggregations of clientelistic networks, again impeding a credible commitment to reforms by competing networks. However, some formal incorporation of external constituencies has produced marginal improvements in reform outputs compared to post-Orange Revolution Ukraine.

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