In this article, i will be discussing the major differences between unitary system of government and federalism. If you have been searching the internet for an article that clearly explains this, you are in the right place. Trust me; you will not regret reading this one.
1. There is powers sharing in federalism whereas political powers are concentrated in a unitary system of government
In a Unitary system of government, political powers are concentrated in the hands of a single central government or authority. The government at the center take total control of every part of the country. Whereas, in a federal system of government, political powers are not concentrated in the hands of a single government. It is shared between the central government and its component unit. In this case, the smaller government is usually autonomous and has lesser power than the central government.
This is the major difference between a unitary system of government and a federal system of government because is goes to the root and core features of the two systems of government.
2. Federalism operates a rigid constitution whereas Unitary system operates a flexible constitution
Another difference between federalism and Unitary system of government is that, a federal system usually go with a rigid constitution. This means that the process of amending the constitution is very difficult and no body will be able to alter the constitution without following due procedure. Whereas, in a unitary system of government, the constitution is usually flexible and unwritten. Since powers are concentrated on a single central government, the government can, at any time, temper with the provisions of the constitution.
Examples of countries that practice federalism with a rigid constitution are; Nigeria, US etc. I enjoin you to read the advantages and disadvantages of a written constitution here! That will help you to understand more about a rigid and written constitution.
3. There is usually constitutional conflict in a federal system as opposed to a unitary system
No doubt, it is rightly suggested that another important difference between a Federal system and a unitary system is that, there is always constitutional conflict in a federalism whereas, there is no such thing in a unitary system. Since the component units in a federation are also autonomous, it means that they can also make laws on matters that concerns them. Now, there is every likelihood that, in making such laws, it will contradict with laws already made by the central government.
This is not the case in a unitary system of government because there is only the central government in the country. Laws made by the central government cannot be opposed opposed by any other law or authority in the country.
4. There is Supremacy of law in federalism whereas, there is Supremacy of the parliament in a Unitary system
In a federal system of government there is usually Supremacy of the law as opposed to a unitary system of government. This is why most countries practising federalism have a rigid and written law. On the other hand, in a unitary system of government, there is the Supremacy of the parliament. The parliament are the law making organ of government.
5. Federalism is suitable for a heterogeneous nation whereas Unitary system is suitable for a homogeneous state
One of the apparent differences between federalism and a unitary system of government is that, federalism is more suitable and comfortably practiced in a heterogeneous nation.
This means that Federalism can only work in a state with multi ethnic groups and religions. This is unlike a Unitary system of government because a Unitary system is suitable for a homogeneous state. That is, a state without so much religious, ethnic or tribal difference between the people.
By: Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka