Federal and unitary structures of government
Federal and unitary structures of government

The government of a country can be classified into federal, unitary or confederation depending upon the relation of the centre and the state. In some countries, the power is vested in the centre (unitary government), while in other countries, the power is divided between the centre and political subunits such as states or provinces (federal government) and in some, the power is vested in the state (confederation).

In this article, you will learn about the federal and unitary government structures, their advantages and disadvantages, and the distinction between them.

What Is Federal Structure or System of Government?

The federal structure is a type of government in which the power is divided between the centre/union and the state. The central government has the power to delegate its authority to the state government. The federal structure is decentralised. That is, under this system of government, the country is controlled and governed by several local offices or authorities rather than one single authority.

Bare Act PDFs

Further, under this structure, the state enjoys some independent rights. And, both the centre and the state have their independent set of governmental machines. However, international diplomacy, national security, foreign affairs and other kinds of international dealings are wholly made by the central or national government.

United States, Germany, India, Mexico and Brazil are some countries that have the federal structure of government.

Advantages of Federal System

The main advantages of the federal structure of government are:

1. Centralisation of powers leads to dictatorship. The federal system safeguards the separation of powers and thus prevents tyranny or dictatorship.

2. As power is divided between the union and the state, this structure is efficient in terms of governance and administration.

Bare Act PDFs

3. The state or provinces enjoy some separate rights.

4. The division of powers between the central and state government brings excellent utilisation of resources. The central government can focus more on international affairs and the country’s defence, while the state government can deal with the regional needs.

Disadvantages of Federal System

Along with the advantages of the federal system, there are also some disadvantages. These are:

1. This system of government is costly because there are many people elected at the office, both in the centre and the state.

2. Too many elected representatives with overlapping roles may lead to corruption.

3. It enables regional inequalities as the natural resources, employment opportunities, etc., are different in every region or state.

4. The decision-making becomes more difficult sometimes.

What Is Unitary Structure or System of Government?

The unitary structure is the type of government under which the power is concentrated only in one authority, i.e. the centre. The central government has the final authority. The unitary structure is centralised. UK, France, Japan, China and Saudi Arabia have a unitary government structure.

Let us now look at the advantages and disadvantages of a unitary structure.

Advantages of Unitary System

The main advantages of the unitary structure of government are:

1. For countries that are smaller in size, a unitary structure is the most suitable.

2. It is less expensive as there is no extensive authority to be funded.

3. Unitary structure is quick in decision-making as all the decisions are made by a single authority.

4. There is no chance of conflicts as all the power is vested with the centre.

Disadvantages of Unitary System

A unitary system of government is a good system for small nations. Yet, it still has disadvantages too. And, these are:

1. The unitary system is not suitable for geographically large countries. Because in unitary system full power is only in the hands of centre and they may probably not have access to rural areas.

2. Central government may not have any knowledge about the problems and needs of the people living in rural areas.

3. There is a lack of efficiency as the central government is usually burdened with lots of responsibilities and functions.

4. Under the unitary form of government, the country may face unequal development and growth. The central government can find it extremely tough to develop every part of the nation at the same time without delegation of authority and powers.

Distinction Between Federal Structure and Unitary Structure of Government

Here are the main differences between the federal and unitary structures of governments:

Federal StructureUnitary Structure
There are two levels of government under this structure.There is only one level of government under this structure.
In this structure of government, the power is divided between the centre and the state.There is no such division of power. The whole power is vested in a single authority, i.e. the centre.
The Constitution under this system can only be amended by a special procedure.The Constitution can be changed by the supreme authority, i.e. the centre.
There are separate legislatures both at the central and the state level.It only has a central legislature.
Under this system, the judiciary has the power to interfere in the decisions of the government.The judiciary may or may not interfere in the decisions of the government.
There are two sets of laws for the citizens under this government structure.The law is uniform for the whole country under this structure of government.
The state government has independent rights and powers of its own.The state government does not have such powers and rights.

Note: India, as KC Wheare said, is neither proper unitary nor federal but quasi-federal in nature as it has features of both.

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Subhashini Parihar
WritingLaw » Law Notes » Federal vs Unitary Structure With Pros, Cons, and Differences Law Study Material
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