Differences between federal and unitary government

Published by Georges Munang on

Differences between federal and unitary government. Following the socio-political environment and happenings in Cameroon, I have had the opportunity to sample public opinions around city towns like Buea, Douala, Bamenda and Yaounde. As a Socio-political blogger with my ears on the ground I have come across people arguing on this common topic: federal and unitary government which one is preferable, l’état federal et l’état unitaire quell est le meillure?

This two concepts Federal and unitary have taken center stage on public debates on local television and Radios in view of the October 7, 2018, presidential elections countdown. All the 9 approved presidential contestants have unique political manifestoes for the state of Cameroon as concerns the form of the state

Officially the Cameroon electoral Body,  ELECAM has presented the list of 9 candidates qualified to run for the upcoming elections.

List of candidates: Cameroon presidential elections 2018.

  • Biya Paul (CPDM)
  • Osih Joshua(SDF)
  • Garga Haman Adji (ADD)
  • Kamto Maurice (CRM)
  • Libi’i Li Ngue Cabril (Univers)
  • Matomba Serge Espoir (UPSR)
  • Muna Akere (PFD)
  • Ndam Njoya (CDU)
  • Njifor Afanwi Francklin (MCNC)

Based on informal political participation, I concluded that many do not really know the differences between these two forms of governments. Thus, I have thought it necessary to compile the differences between a federal state and a unitary state for your reading pleasure. Let’s go!

First of all,

What is a Federal and Unitary government?

Federal Government

In general terms a federal government refers to a system of government where there is institutionalized division of authority between national (federal) and subnational units (state).

In a federation provinces or territories enjoy some rights as are available to the independent states excluding international diplomacy, national security, foreign affairs and other kinds of international dealings which fall under the competence of the federal government.

It can be in the form of a federal republic and a federal monarchy government. Currently, there are 27 federations in the world. Pakistan, India, Brazil, Switzerland, Sudan, Nigeria etc. are examples of a federal republic government while Australia, Belgium, Canada, etc., are examples of a federal monarchy government. Mostly the federal government system is referred to the United States government.

Unitary Government

Unitary government is a kind of government system in which a single power, which is known as the central government, controls the whole government.

Today, most of the government systems in the world are based on unitary system of government. It can be in the form of unitary republic or a unitary monarchy.

Afghanistan, Italy, Zambia, Ukraine, Cameroon, Senegal, Kenya etc. are examples of a unitary republic government while Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Morocco, Spain, etc. are examples of a unitary monarchy government.

Main differences between a federal and a unitary government

  • Inter-state competition

A federal government system allows for inter-states competition in political reforms and economic development (Nigeria, USA, India, Brazil, and Switzerland) whereas in a unitary government system such competition cannot be possible especially where provinces or regions have little or no autonomy (Cameroon, Chad, Liberia, Togo)

  • Type of constitution

Unitary government may or may not have a written constitution like UK has no constitution while France has a written constitution and both are unitary governments.

On the contrary, a federal government must have a constitution (USA, Nigeria)

  • Settlement of disputes

In case of disputes between institutions in a federal government or any bill passed by parliament, judiciary will interfere.

On the other hand in a unitary government, even the highest court cannot give judgment or remarks on the law or bill passed by parliament.

  • Decentralization and devolution of power

In a federal government, there is hierarchy of power in other words there is high degree of decentralization and devolution of powers from federal, state and to local levels.

In a unitary government, there is rather de-concentration of powers from the political center to the political interior meaning power and authority are shared with the lower level government when needed.

  • Rules and regulations

There are common set of rules and regulations in the entire country under a unitary system of government. In a federal government system, there can be variations in rules and regulations at central and state levels.

By implication, it is very normal in a federal government for a state legislature let us say  Lagos state to refuse moving a Federal law from Abuja thereby disqualifying the application of the law by the Lagos state executives. This cannot happen in unitary government like Cameroon.

  • Uniformity of command

In a federal government, the central government and the independent states government can form a collation or agreement to operate jointly.

While, it is not common practice in a unitary government where the autonomous regions or states with limited powers exist by the permission of the central government. This permission can be revoked anytime by the unitary government.

  • Governing values

The federal government is the name of democracy, diversity, freedom of choice and expression. The unitary government is the name of unity, identity, and consistency.

  • Liberty and freedoms

To some extent, the federal government is the form of democratic government that believes in the devolution and decentralization of power/authorities and giving more freedom to the people.

A unitary system is much similar to the dictatorial government where there is a concept of centralization and de-concentration of power/authorities with limited or no choice and freedom of expression for the people.

  • Ease decision making

In the case of emergency where timely decisions are required, a unitary government is more responsive as compared to the federal government that believes more on the formalities and legal proceedings.

  • United States government system is a typical example of a federal government while the United Kingdom government system represents that of a unitary government system.

This two concepts federal and unitary are very complex in public administration. Reason why statesmen pay critical attention to them when formulating and instituting states values.

 


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