Abstract

International aid agencies are increasingly placing social accountability at the heart of their governance reform programs, involving a range of social activist mechanisms through which officials are rendered answerable to the public. Crucially, aid agencies are not just promoting these mechanisms in emerging democracies, but now also in authoritarian societies. What then are the likely political regime effects of these mechanisms? We approach this by examining who supports social accountability, why, and the implications for political authority. Focusing on the Philippines and Cambodia cases, it is argued that, to differing degrees, social accountability mechanisms have been subordinated to liberal and/or moral ideologies favoring existing power hierarchies. These ideologies often privilege nonconfrontational state–society partnerships, drawing activists into technical and administrative processes limiting reform possibilities by marginalizing, or substituting for, independent political action pivotal to the democratic political authority of citizens.

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