Federal and Unitary systems of government are the most practiced in the world. But it is not actually easy to spot the differences between these two even though they are both opposite of each other. Conversely, In this article, I will be discussing the differences between a unitary system and a federal system. If you have been searching the internet for an article that clearly explains this, you are in the right place. Trust me; you will not regret reading this one.
Before we move to the crux of today’s article, I would like to give you a little explanation of the two systems of government in this article.
What is a Unitary system of government?
A Unitary government is a form of government where political powers are concentrated in a single central government, which does not share powers with any other body in the country, but delegates powers to regional and local governments and other subordinate bodies. All government powers are concentrated in the central or national government as the only source of authority from which power emanates.
A country operating a unitary system of government usually adopts a unitary constitution. The constitution though separate, is usually flexible and not rigid, as the government has powers to amend it a maybe necessary.
Features of unitary system of government
1. It concentrates government powers and authority in a single central government or legislature.
2. Unitary system of government usually go with a flexible constitution.
3. The constitution is not supreme but the legislature.
4. Unlike a federal system, the citizens owe allegiance to only one government in a unitary system of government.
5. Other authorities do not derive their powers from the constitution but from the central government.
What is a federal system of government?
According to Wikipedia, Federalism is the mixed compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Simply put, Federalism is a system of government in which there is power sharing between the central government and its component units.
Where a country is large and has diverse and multi-ethnic, multi-racial or multi religious people, a federal or confederal system of government are the best forms of government to be adopted. This usually enables the different governments to make the necessary diverse law that will meet their development needs, in their local autonomous religion, district or community.
The preservation of the local autonomy of the different constituents parts usually remove feelings of dissatisfaction among the people and this promotes political stability. Federalism enables free independent but small or weak people or states to come together to form a strong, vibrant and large country which may wield a lot of people and influence to preserve their individual sovereignty, autonomy, independence and defend themselves against their neighbors.
Features of Federal system of government
1. Federal system of government encourages division of governmental powers between the central government and component government of the region.
2. It guarantees the supremacy of the constitution.
3. In a federal system, different governments derives their powers from the constitution which is supreme.
4. Federal system always go with a written constitution.
5. The central government is superior to other components of the government.
6. Duplications of the organs of government in all government
Major Differences between federal and unitary system
1. While a federal system divides governmental powers between the central government and component government of the region, a unitary system concentrates governmental power and authority in a single central government or legislature.
2. A federal system is always with written constitution, while unitary system must not necessarily go with a written constitution.
3. Federal system of government allays fear is ethnic domination more than a unitary constitution
4. A federal government is more suitable to a country with wide geographical area, large population, diverse languages, culture and custom than a unitary system of government.
5. Federal system has a rigid constitution, while unitary system has flexible constitution.
6. In a federal system, the constitution is supreme but in a unitary system the legislature is supreme.
7. Citizens owe allegiance to two government in a federal system of government, while in a unitary system, the citizens owe allegiance to one government (central government).
8. While the central and component governments co-ordinate powers in a federal system, component government are made subordinate to the central government in a unitary system of government.
9. Judicial interpretation and review seems to be stronger in a federal system than in a unitary system of government.
10. A federal system of government prevents monopoly of power while a unitary system does not.
11. Federal system of government is more expensive to operate than a unitary system.
12. Wider representation of people is ensured in a federal system of government than in a unitary system of government.
13. The fundamental human rights of the citizens are more guaranteed in a federal system than in a unitary system of government.
14. While federal system of government makes it difficult for quick political decisions to be taken, unitary system of government guarantees quick decisions to be taken especially in a time of emergency.
15. Federal system emphasizes the differences among people of a country but a unitary system does not.
16. Federal system of government creates a weak central government while a unitary system encourages a stronger central government.
Both federal and unitary systems of government present distinctive features that impact a nation’s governance, political dynamics, and citizen engagement. The federal system fosters decentralized governance, accommodating regional diversity, and promoting active citizen participation. On the other hand, the unitary system prioritizes efficiency and uniformity in decision-making but may risk neglecting local concerns.
The choice between these systems largely depends on a country’s historical, cultural, and geographical context, as well as the preferences of its citizens. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, and understanding these differences is crucial for shaping effective governance and achieving national stability and prosperity.