Federal Constitution | Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

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Federal Constitution – Definition, Features, Advantages and Disadvantages

Federal Constitution
Federal Constitution

Definition of Federal Constitution

A federal constitution is one which divides and apportions political Powers the different tiers of government in a particular country, for example, the central, state and local governments. The powers of each tier is properly defined and derived from the constitution. Autonomy of each units is, therefore, guaranteed.

For example, functions listed under the exclusive legislative list are for the central government alone to legislate on. Also, functions listed under the concurrent legislative list are for both the centre and state governments. If there is a conflict in the exercise of these functions, the powers of the central government would prevail over the state or regional governments. Functions listed under dealership to a legislative list are for the regional and local governments.

Features of a Federal Constitution

Federal constitution has some certain features which differenciate it from the unitary constitution. They are:

  1. Federal constitutions are always written and rigid.
  2. Powers are shared between the central government and other subordinate units.
  3. The three organs of government – the executive, legislature and the judiciary have their powers and functions divide and separated in the constitution.
  4. Most federal states adopt a bicameral legislature, for example, Senate and House of Representatives.
  5. There is always supremacy of the constitution in a federal state.
  6. Powers exercised by the three different organs of government are derived from the constitution. Domination and exercise of Unitary power is not allowed.
  7. There is autonomy of the units making up the federation.

Advantages of Federal Constitution

The advantages of a federal constitution include the following:

  1. Power sharing – Powers are shared between the central and other component units, for instance, state and local governments. The tendency for powers to be concentrated in one hand is there for ruled out.
  2. Political participation – Participation in politics is extended to the people at the grassroots. Decisions are mostly taken after much consultations are done.
  3. Protection – The positions is made in the constitution for the protection of the individual rights of both the majorities and the minorities.
  4. Duplicate of functions – Functions are carried out by different individuals and personnel creating the avenue for employment opportunities by duplicating functions.
  5. Unity – Unity in diversity is achieved despite the differences in tribes, culture, language, beliefs and religious.
  6. Autonomy of region – This makes it possible for each unit and region to act and developed at its own pace.
  7. Political stability – There is no room for opposition, hence, interest groups are accommodated.
  8. Domination – No particular tribe, religious or sectional interest is specially favoured in a federal state. No group can dominate others as power and functions are shared equally.
  9. The supremacy of the constitution – The constitution is respected by every tier of government, political leaders, etc. Not only that, the citizens of a country must equally respect the provisions of the constitutions as well.

Disadvantages of Federal Constitution

A federal constitution has certain disadvantages, which may, however, significantly diminish its usefulness.

  1. Expensive to operate – A federal constitution is too expensive to operate and maintain. This is as a result of duplication of powers and functions.
  2. Rigid constitution – A federal constitution is rigid, making it difficult to amend, even in a state of emergency. Amendment of the constitution involves about two-third (2/3) of the Parliament supporting it and 3/4 of state assemblies equally supporting it.
  3. Statism and regionalism – People often pay loyalty more to their states or regions than to the national government. To them, states come first before the central government.
  4. Seccession – A section of the country may have feelings of rejection and would want to secede or break away.
  5. Issue of minorities – The minority might feel neglected in the areas of provision of infrastructure and employment opportunities. This can affect the unity of any country.
  6. Unhealthy rivalry – This could come up among states in the areas of developments and revenue allocations.
  7. Duplication of functions – This can bring about waste of resources and revenue in both human and material.
  8. Revenue allocations – This is always a problem with a federal state. The formula used at a particular time may not appeal to any of the tiers of government.
  9. Weak central – A federal constitution may produce a weak national government. This may affect decision-making and states may take the advantages of this to arrogate more powers to themselves
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