Get complete information on the division of power as the basis of classification


The modem political regimes are classified on the basis of territorial distribution of powers also, i.e. how the powers of the government are distributed between the centre and the various administrative regions. On this basis we can identify: Unitary and Federal, the salient features of which are discussed below:

Unitary Government:

A unitary form of government is one in which all the powers are concentrated in the hands of the central government. The central government creates local units for administrative convenience and delegates to them such power as it deems necessary. These local units are called local governments. England, France, Japan, Sri Lanka are examples of unitary governments.



Some leading writers defined unitary government as follows: GARNER: “Where the whole power of government is conferred by the constitution upon a single
central organ”

A.V.DICEY: “Habitual exercise of supreme legislative authority is by one central power”

C.F.STRONG mentions two important qualities of the Unitary Government. They are:-


1. The supremacy of the central government;

2. The absence of the subsidiary sovereign bodies. The distinction between subsidiary law-making bodies and subsidiary sovereign bodies is the distinction between the local authorities in a unitary state and state authorities in a federal state.

Federal Government:

Federalism is a form of government where the powers are distributed between the central and provincial governments and both have their separate and well defined areas of authority. Here, the totality of government power is divided and distributed by the national constitution between a central government and those of the individual states.


A federal government has an agreement and there are certain essential features that ensure its proper working. They are: i) a written constitution, ii) division of powers, and iii) independence of judiciary.

Firstly, the federal government is the creation of agreement which takes place as a result of a constitution in which the powers of the federal government and the federating units and the details of their rights are listed.

This constitution is expected to be written and rigid enough so that neither centre nor the federating units may change it at their own will. Also the constitution is sovereign in the sense that both centre and the units are subordinate to it. Secondly, an indispensable quality of the federal government is the distribution of power of government between central government and the federating units.

Normally, the subjects of national importance such as defence, foreign affairs, railways, communications, and finance are entrusted to the central government whereas subjects like education, health, agriculture etc. are looked after by the provincial units.


The powers may also be distributed in one of the two ways: either the constitution states the powers that the federal authority shall have and leave the reminder to the units, or it states those powers the federating units shall possess and leave the reminder to the federal authority.

For example, in the American federation the constitution defines the powers of the federal authority and leaves the rest to the federating units. In Canada, it is the reverse i.e. the constitutions prescribes only the powers of the federating units and leave the rest to the central government. However, in India both the powers of the centre and the units have been listed.

Thirdly, there should be an independent institution to settle the disputes with regard to the jurisdiction of the centre and the units and among the units. Such an institution can only be the Supreme Court whose function is to see that the constitution is respected in so far as it distributes the governmental powers between the contracting parties and the federal authority which by their contract they establish authority to run the administration. A completely federalised state, this court is absolutely supreme in its power to decide in cases of conflict between the federal authority and the state authorities.

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