Difference Between Unitary Government and Federal Government (With Table)

A government is generally known as the controlling and organising body of a nation or a state. It is a source through which enforcement of laws and policies takes place. The laws or rules come from the articles of the Constitution.

The legislature, executive and judiciary are the three major tiers of a government. All of them have varying importance and distinct functions. The chambers in a government function in an interconnected manner. The main aspect of any government, i.e., political power, is looked after by these chambers only.

Historically, various types and forms of government prevail all around the world. Whether it is a monarchy, democracy, aristocracy, dictatorship or tyranny, every single form of government has its own made set of rules and policies that it acts upon.

Governments are classified into Unitary and Federal according to the type of relations the national government and the local governments have between them. Both these types of government differ based on the division of powers and many other aspects too.

A federal government allows the national and the local governments to operate independently in their own jurisdictions. On the other hand, in a unitary government, the central government is the supreme controlling body of the nation.

Unitary Government vs Federal Government

The difference between Unitary Government and Federal Government is that a unitary government is a single system of government where the central government has all the powers, whereas, a federal government is a dual system of government where the powers are divided between the national government and the local governments.

Comparison Table Between Unitary Government and Federal Government

Parameter of ComparisonUnitary Government Federal Government
System of Government A unitary government is a single system of government where the central government has supreme authority.A federal government is a dual system of government where the national government and the local governments work independently.
Division of PowerAll the powers are incorporated within the central governing body. The powers are divided between the national and the local governments.
ConstitutionIt can either have a written or an unwritten Constitution. While it is ought to have a written Constitution.
RigidityThe Constitution can either be rigid or flexible. Whereas the Constitution must be more or less rigid.
JudiciaryThere is no special judiciary. There is a special judiciary with unique powers.
BalanceThe central government can issue orders to the local governments being the only authority. While here there is a balance between the national and local governments.
CountriesCountries like Japan, Britain, France, Italy etc. have a unitary government. Countries like the US, Australia, Russia, Canada etc. have a federal government.

What is Unitary Government?

A Unitary government is a system of government in which all the powers reside in the central governing body or the central government. The central government is the supreme authority of powers in a unitary state. At present, most of the world’s nations have a unitary system of government.

The central government has the authority to establish, demolish, distribute and amend laws. It also has the power to issue orders to all the local or state governments and they are ought to obey those.

The decision-making authority only lies with the central government. The local governments or the citizens of the nation do not have enough ability to voice their opinions against the government.

Coming to the Constitution of a unitary government, it is not bound to be written or rigid. It can either be written or rigid and also unwritten or flexible. There is no strict imposition on what the type of constitution should be.

There is no special judiciary in a unitary government. At the time of emergency, the government is known for reaching conclusions at the right time. As there are a lesser number of people with the authority, the government is not much expensive as compared to the federal one.

The unitary government comes in several mannerisms and parts. It is very similar to that of a dictatorship form of government where the opinions and rights of the citizens are not prioritised.

What is Federal Government?

A Federal government is a system of government with two levels of government, i.e., the national and the state or local. The national government, as well as the local governments, are allowed to function independently in their own jurisdictions.

There is a balance of power between both these levels of government. The States are independent of making decisions and bringing reforms. Although some powers like national security, foreign affairs and international diplomacy are concentrated in the national or central governing body only.

A federal government is the total opposite of the unitary government; all the powers are never vested in a single body here.

The Constitution of a federal government must be a written one. The articles should be drafted in a written format. The rigidity of the constitution is also essential here. It is regarded as a sacred agreement, and therefore, its rigidity should be maintained.

As there is an equal division of powers, chances of rifts and disagreements between the central and the state authorities are common. For this purpose, a judiciary with special powers is established, known as the special judiciary.

The federal government is an expensive system of government as the authorities with powers are more in number. The modes of operating of a federal government differ from that of a unitary one. The citizens are allowed to voice their opinions freely in a federation.

Main Differences Between Unitary Government and Federal Government

  1. In a unitary government, the central government is the supreme, while in a federal government the national and state governments are independent.
  2. Federal government has a written constitution.
  3. Rigidity of constitution is more essential in a federation.
  4. Special judiciary is present only in a federation.
  5. There is no balance between central and state governments in a unitary system.

Conclusion

Unitary and Federal systems of government are the exact opposite of each other when it comes to powers, authority and nature of the government. The unitary government has some resemblance to the dictatorship form of government, while the federal government has a certain resemblance to democracy.

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9299.1990.tb00760.x
  2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3110305