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Encouraging linkages: parties, patronage and top civil servants

Patrícia Silva
Universidade de Aveiro
Patrícia Silva
Universidade de Aveiro
Open Panel

Abstract

Research on political patronage has highlighted its instrumental dimension in the process of defining and implementing public policies. The growing complexity of governance processes, together with the growing influence of the upper echelons of the civil service in policy making has prompted politicians to search for new ways of controlling the bureaucracy and of promoting integration between elected officials and top civil servants. Thus, the power to appoint may encourage reward, loyalty and professional linkages. By increasing political control, parties in government attempt to obtain a more responsible and accountable bureaucracy which can potentially have positive consequences for the pursuit of the policy goals of parties in government. In this paper, we assess patterns of “strategic politicization” in Portugal, through the empirical analysis of 14000 appointments to the upper levels of the civil service. This quantitative analysis is complemented with in-depth interviews to some 44 top officials, ministers and specialists, which will further specify patronage operational enactment and strategies undertaken by political parties. Overall, our empirical analysis demonstrates that the rationales for party patronage are not only building and maintaining party organizations, but are also the result of governing parties’ efforts to address problems of governance. Results demonstrate that the country’s degree of party patronage is influenced by the strength of the main opposition party, which potentially restrain the grasp of the governing parties. This is perceptible not only in attempts to approve more restrictive civil service laws, but also in varying levels of appointments. Party patronage practises are also potentially explained by ideological differences between parties, which is in line with arguments on parties’ policy-seeking objectives. Partisan alternation in government associated with ideological reorientations is also a strong predictor of party patronage practises, although it is not significant in explaining the depth of party patronage.