Does transparency improve parliamentary performance in an authoritarian regime?

In a democracy, the incentive for improved performance is created by voters’ responses to newly available information. Building on this work, donor projects have begun to export transparency interventions to authoritarian regimes under the assumption that nongovernmental organizations and the media can substitute for the incentives created by voters. Such interventions, however, are at odds with an emerging literature that argues that authoritarian parliaments primarily serve the role of co-optation and limited power sharing, where complaints can be raised in a manner that does not threaten regime stability. We argue that under these conditions, transparency may have perverse effects, and we test this theory with a randomized experiment on delegate behavior in query sessions in Vietnam, a single-party authoritarian regime. We find no evidence of a direct effect of the transparency treatment on delegate performance; however, further analysis reveals that delegates subjected to high treatment intensity demonstrate robust evidence of curtailed participation and damaged reelection prospects. These results make us cautious about the export of transparency without electoral sanctioning.

A new paper by Malesky, Schuler, and Tran in the APSR. Older ungated copy.