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The Adverse Effects of Sunshine: A Field Experiment on Legislative Transparency in an Authoritarian Assembly

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2012

An influential literature has demonstrated that legislative transparency can improve the performance of parliamentarians in democracies. 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.

Corresponding author
Edmund Malesky is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Duke University, 326 Perkins Library, Box 90204, Durham, NC 27708 (
Paul Schuler is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, 0519, La Jolla, CA, 92093 (
Anh Tran is Assistant Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University at Bloomington, 1315 East Tenth Street, Bloomington, IN 47405 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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