Differences Between Federalism and Unitary System of Government

During my elementary school days, I was taught about the different systems of government practiced in various countries of the world. Apparently, Federalism and Unitary system of government are the best and most practiced in the world. But then, I didn’t know the difference between federalism and unitary system of government. It is not actually difficult to point out the differences between this two systems of government because they are both opposed to each other. In fact, you will agree with me that federalism system of government has the opposite features of a unitary system of government.

Conversely, In today’s article, i will be discussing the major differences between unitary system of government and federalism. 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.

Nonetheless, before I move to the crux of today’s article, i would like to give you little details about a unitary system of government and a federal system of government. This will go a long way to help you understand the content of this article when we continue. Here we go!

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What is a Unitary system of government?

Unitary system of government is a government where all 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.

difference between federalism and unitary system of government

difference between federalism and unitary system of government

What is federalism?

According to Wikipedia, Federalism is the mixed or 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 confedral 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.

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Now that you know what a unitary and a federal system of government is, i will now point out the differences between the two systems of government. Make sure to read carefully as i discuss the crux of today’s topic.

Differences between federalism and Unitary systems of governmen

Below are the major differences between a federal and Unitary system of government:

1. There is powers sharing in federalism whereas political powers are concentrated in a unitary system of government

In a Unitary system of government, political powers are concentrated in the hands of a single central government or authority. The government at the center take total control of every part of the country. Whereas, in a federal system of government, political powers are not concentrated in the hands of a single government. It is shared between the central government and its component unit. In this case, the smaller government is usually autonomous and has lesser power than the central government.

This is the major difference between a unitary system of government and a federal system of government because is goes to the root and core features of the two systems of government.

2. Federalism operates a rigid constitution whereas Unitary system operates a flexible constitution

Another difference between federalism and Unitary system of government is that, a federal system usually go with a rigid constitution. This means that the process of amending the constitution is very difficult and no body will be able to alter the constitution without following due procedure. Whereas, in a unitary system of government, the constitution is usually flexible and unwritten. Since powers are concentrated on a single central government, the government can, at any time, temper with the provisions of the constitution.

Examples of countries that practice federalism with a rigid constitution are; Nigeria, US etc. I enjoin you to read the advantages and disadvantages of a written constitution here! That will help you to understand more about a rigid and written constitution.

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3. There is usually constitutional conflict in a federal system as opposed to a unitary system

No doubt, it is rightly suggested that another important difference between a Federal system and a unitary system is that, there is always constitutional conflict in a federalism whereas, there is no such thing in a unitary system. Since the component units in a federation are also autonomous, it means that they can also make laws on matters that concerns them. Now, there is every likelihood that, in making such laws, it will contradict with laws already made by the central government.

This is not the case in a unitary system of government because there is only the central government in the country. Laws made by the central government cannot be opposed opposed by any other law or authority in the country.

4. There is Supremacy of law in federalism whereas, there is Supremacy of the parliament in a Unitary system

In a federal system of government there is usually Supremacy of the law as opposed to a unitary system of government. This is why most countries practising federalism have a rigid and written law. On the other hand, in a unitary system of government, there is the Supremacy of the parliament. The parliament are the law making organ of government.

5. Federalism is suitable for a heterogeneous nation whereas Unitary system is suitable for a homogeneous state

One of the apparent differences between federalism and a unitary system of government is that, federalism is more suitable and comfortably practiced in a heterogeneous nation.

This means that Federalism can only work in a state with multi ethnic groups and religions. This is unlike a Unitary system of government because a Unitary system is suitable for a homogeneous state. That is, a state without so much religious, ethnic or tribal difference between the people.

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Conclusion

Okay! Those are the major differences between a unitary system of government and a federal system of government. Note that by pointing out these differences, i am not trying to say that any of these systems of government is better than the other. Of course, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. So, no is actually better than the other. It basically depends on where the system is practiced.

Meanwhile, if you have any question based on what I have discussed so far, please do well to ask it via the comment section. I will be glad to hear from you!

One Response

  1. mwaba

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