Federalism | Definition | Features | Pros & Cons

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Federalism | Definition | Features | Pros & Cons

Federalism | Definition | Features | Pros & Cons

Meaning of Federalism

The term Federation emanated from the Latin word foedus, which means treaty or agreement. A federalism system of government involves sharing of political power among various component units of any state (country) where the central governments and regional governments are given varying powers by the constitution and each of them has power to have its own laws without relying on other.

The court is the last resort when there is clash between the central government and regional governments.

Several scholars have worked extensively on federalism, and they have come out with different definitions of the term:

the form of government where the component units of a political organization participate in sharing powers and functions in a cooperative manner through the combined forces of ethnic pluralism and cultural diversity, among others, tend to pull their people apart. Delicate arrangements of this kind, where carefully worked out, provide sufficient room for the co-existence of centre seeking and centre-fleeing forces” – Tamuno, 1998.

a device for limiting government power by dividing it between national and various regional governments based in different regions of the country. Federalism, like the separation of powers between organs of a unitary government is an important instrument of constitutionalism” – Nwabueze, 1992.

the method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each within a sphere, coordinate and independent” – Wheare, 1970.

“….. a joint national enterprise in which the centre and the states are partners, united in a common purpose and working with agreed policies in different fields of national development” – India Progress Report, 1953.

a system of government in which central and regional authorities are linked in a mutually independent political relationship; in this system a balance is maintained such that neither level of government becomes dominant to the extent that it can dictate decisions of the other, but each can influence, bargain and persuade the other… the functions of government will be distributed between these levels” (exclusively, completely or cooperatively) – Vile, 1961.

the system of division of powers, a federal polity is a dual government, in which powers are divided and distributed by the constitution between a central government and regional governments… Both the central and regional governments are coordinate, independent authorities within their allotted spheres of jurisdiction. Neither can encroach upon the powers of the other” – Kapur, 1950.

Considering various definitions above-mentioned, one may agree with the fact that federal system is a very effective instrument of governance, which enables the component units to have political power independent of central political authority, not only to function on their own but also to make policies in accordance with their various peculiarities.

Such peculiarities may likely not be given sufficient attention under a form of political system where power is centralized (unitary system of government) due to the uniformity in policy formulation and implementation of such political arrangement.


Reasons for Federalism

  • The federal government is supreme in terms of conflicts Exclusive powers are reserved for the federal government while the concurrent powers are shared between the federal and states.
  • Bicameral Legislature: there are usually two houses at the federal level i.e. The senate whose composition is based on the states in the in the federation, and the House of Representative whose member are elected on population basis.
  • Supremacy of the Constitution. The constitution which is usually codified is supreme to all other laws of the federation.
  • There is always a rigid constitution under the federal system of government because the amendment provisions are cumbersome.
  • To preserve and cater for the welfare of the various ethnic groups and interests.
  • The need to pool together the resources for the benefit of all.

Features of Federalism

  • The federal government is supreme: that is, Exclusive powers are reserved for the Federal government while the Residual powers are exercise by the States and the Concurrent list of power are shared between the Federal and Component units (states).
  • Existence of Bicameral Legislature: there are two Houses of Legislature at the Federal level (The Senate and The House of Representatives). In some countries, the legislature is called the National Assembly, and in the USA it is call The Congress.
  • Supremacy of the Constitution: that is, the constitution is usually codified in a single document and it is supreme to all other laws of the federation.
  • Existence of a rigid constitution: Constitution whose process of amendment requires wider consultations, usually a two-thirds majority of the National Legislature and in some cases a two-third majority of Component States Legislature and it may also require support of significant number of citizens.
  • Independent Judiciary: judges that is supreme to interprete the constitution and also settle conflicts arising from exercise of governmental powers and other public or private matters.

Merits of Federalism

  • Rapid socio-economic development in a country: Since the resources of such a nation are to be evenly, distributed within the different units of the nation, it could enhance socio-economic development.
  • In removes the fear of domination of the minority by the majority.
  • In law formulation wider consultation is involved since several citizens participate either at the senate or House of Representatives.
  • It allows a greater degree of decentralization since component states also enjoys residual power to function in certain areas of local matters.
  • It promotes spirit of nation building especially in developing countries.
  • It prevent dictatorial rule because of existence of a written and rigid constitution.

Demerits of Federalism

  • Federal system may give rise to sectionalism rather than nationalism.
  • It can create a very strong centre where the Federal government enjoys overwhelming dominance in major areas of national life and the States have to depend on the central authority.
  • Federalism is more expensive to run because of duplication of government machineries.
  • Due to different policy formulation by different states, there is different rate of development within a nation.
  • There is usually problem of acceptable measure of allocation of resources.
  • It may hinder the process of decision making especially where consensus can not be obtained, it delay it.

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