Features of Federal System of Government

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Features of Federal System of Government | Politics| Federal State

Federal System of Government

A federal system of government is one in which there is constitutional division of powers among different levels or three tiers of government (namely – Federal, State / Regional, Local Governments).

In a federal system of government, the federal or central authority represents the whole country acts on behalf of all people and states on certain matters, especially defence, external affairs, currency, national revenue etc and any other areas considered to be of common interest.

There also exists state/region or local authorities with powers of legislation and administration within constitutional limits.

It should be observed as well that in federal system of government, the supremacy of the constitution is not only respected or upheld but also responsible for the division of powers among the tiers of government.

A federal government has the following characteristics and features.

  • Existence of two or more levels of Government: There are two or more levels of government, which share the powers of government in a federation. Most federal states have both federal and state governments whereas many other countries has three levels of government (federal, state and local).
  • Central Government is Supreme: In a federal state, the federal (central) government is supreme in matters that are of common interest (such as the printing of money, foreign affairs and defence) while the state or regional government has control on matters that are of particular importance to it asa unit (e.g. sanitation or chieftaincy affairs).
  • Component Units are not Sovereign: The component units bear different names in different countries. They are called ‘states’ in Nigeria and the USA; ‘cantons’ in Switzerland, ‘provinces’ in Canada and ‘laender’ in Germany. One thing that is common to them is that they are not sovereign.
  • Supremacy of Constitution: The constitution in a federal state supreme.
  • Written Constitution: The constitution is usually written. As a written document, it specifies the powers of the central and state governments, the limitations on their power and the fundamental human rights of the citizens.
  • Rigid Constitution: A federal government usually has a rigid constitution. This is to make it difficult for any government to tamper with the constitution without the concurrence of the other levels of government.
  • Rigid Amendment Procedures: The procedures for making and amending the constitution are usually tedious and cumbersome.
  • Secession is Illegal: Secession of any component state is not permitted although the 1936 Constitution of the former USSR made provision for the autonomous Republics to break away but none of them could dare to do it till the 1990’s because the punishment was severe.
  • Bicameral Legislature: The legislature is usually bicameral. That is, it comprises two houses, namely, first the upper house in which all the states are represented on equal basis and second, the lower house where representation is based on population.
  • Control of citizens by several governments: Each citizen in a federal state is subject to at least two governments, namely the federal and state governments. In some countries, it is subject to control by three different governments, namely, federal, state and local governments. This poses a serious problem for the allegiance of the citizens to the nation-state.
  • Difficulty in Determining Jurisdiction of Government: It is not always easy to determine the jurisdiction of the different governments. This is because the constitution which is usually a product of compromises is sometimes ambiguous, contradictory or vague.
  • Federal Government Differs from Federal Constitution: It is possible to have a federal constitution in a country and yet not have a federal government in practice. That is, a constitution may be federal in form but unitary in fact.
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