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State Size and Clientelism: A Comparative Case Study of Malta

Comparative Politics
Democratisation
Political Competition
Political Parties
Representation
Qualitative
Corruption
Southern Europe
Wouter Veenendaal
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Wouter Veenendaal
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
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Abstract

While it has long been assumed that small societies are prone to particularistic relationships, so far hardly any studies have empirically analyzed the relationship between state size and clientelism. This paper departs from the assumption that clientelistic linkages are particularly likely to emerge and persist in small states, due to the amalgamation of public and private relations and the direct, face-to-face contacts between citizens and politicians. In addition, the limited size of the electorate means that only a very small number of votes decide the outcome of elections, meaning that politicians have additional incentives to offer material rewards in return for votes. In this paper, these suppositions are examined on the basis of a comprehensive case study of Malta, the smallest member state of the European Union. The analysis is based on one month of field research in Malta conducted in November 2017, which primarily consisted of semi-structured interviews with politicians, journalists, academics, and representatives of civil society organizations. In addition, as a form of participant observation, two Maltese politicians were shadowed while engaging with voters during sequential visits to their respective constituencies. The analysis reveals that patron-client linkages are a ubiquitous feature of political life in Malta, and this can in many ways be explained by the smallness of the country. In addition, clientelism is found to be related to several other characteristics of Maltese politics, among which the sharp polarization between parties, extremely high turnout rates, profound executive dominance, and the more recent incidence of corruption scandals. The analysis also puts the Maltese case into broader perspective by making comparisons with similar cases in Europe (such as Cyprus and Iceland) and other small (island) states around the globe. In doing so, it proposes a new framework for understanding the ways in which smallness mediates and reinforces clientelistic linkages.