Theories of democratic decentralisation in democratising states suggest that such reforms will provide significant opportunities for parties in opposition at the national level by multiplying the arenas of political contestation. But this expected outcome may also depend on other contextual factors. This comparative study of recent municipal elections in South Africa and Zambia shows that parties in Zambia have been less likely to engage in municipal elections than those in South Africa. The article offers possible explanations for these different outcomes based on different factors that structure the competition for offices, as well as on the expected benefits of running for office. If local governments have few financial resources and limited policy jurisdictions, political and personal incentives for engaging in local politics are reduced. Hence, if there are concurrent elections, parties instead will tend to concentrate their efforts on winning offices at the national level.

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