What Are The Unitary And Federal Constitution? Difference Between Them


A state is indefensible without a constitution. Every state has its own definite set of rules. These rules fix the basic structure of the government for operating the state. These rules of the state are called the constitution.

Herman Finer defined the Constitution as “codes of rules which aspire to regulate the allocation of functions, power and duties among the various agencies and offices of the government and define the relationship between these and the public.”

In simple words, the constitution is the legal body of a country contained a set of rules and regulations according to which a government should be governed. The principles of a constitution specifically deal with how power is distributed and controlled and citizen’s rights.

Characteristically, a constitution can be divided into several forms. Here we discussed the unitary and federal forms of the constitution. According to some political scientists and constitutional experts, the Constitutions are either unitary form or federal form.

Unitary Constitution

The world’s major countries utilize the unitary form of constitution. The word ‘unitary’ means having the quality of oneness. The unitary constitution is that form of constitution in which the supreme governing authority of a state is concentrated in a single place.

“In the unitary system the Constitution of the state delegates all governmental power to the national government which may create such sub-divisions and delegates to them such powers as it sees fit, changing their boundaries and their powers as it’s pleasure by ordinary legislative enactment.’’ – R.G. Gettell

As per a unitary constitution, in a unitary state, there is a single central government, this government is the ultimate authority and control the state administration. The state has sovereign power and the legal department to create, organize or eliminate the lower level of government. The central government can be divided into several provinces or subdivisions for the sake of administrative convince. The provisions do not execute their power from the constitution, they behold their existence to the central government which may abolish their powers at will. There is house legislation.

The unitary form of constitution is found in culturally, geographically and historically rich countries. Countries that have historical experience with systems of cover governance, whereby kings, queens or emperors exercised dominance over the nation’s administration.

The unitary constitution is flexible. This constitution is naturally well defined and simple than any other form of constitution. It provides an apparent and understandable setting out the political leaders have a less chance for extensive negotiation.

Some major characteristics of the unitary constitution are stated below:-

1. Most Effective Form of Constitution: The unitary constitution is said to be the most effective form of constitution. In the unitary system, the uniformity of law, policy and administration exists throughout the country. It promotes national harmony among the citizens of the country.

2. Single Citizenship: In a unitary constitution, a citizen enjoys single citizenship.

3. Efficient in Defence and Foreign Affairs: In the field of defence and foreign affairs the unitary constitution is manifest. The clear cut policies can be executed in foreign policies and securities of the country.

4. Single Government: In a unitary system, there is only one central government and the sovereign power belongs to the central government.

5. Flexible: The unitary constitution is flexible. It can be easily changed according to circumstances.

172 countries in the world follow the unitary constitution. Some of them are Afghanistan, Armenia, Benin, Chile, Egypt, Fiji, Iran, Kenya, Peru, Taiwan, Denmark, Japan etc.

Federal Constitution

Federal constitution represents the contrast of the unitary constitution. The English word Federal derived from the Latin term ‘foedus’ which means a formal contract between nations, peoples or a treaty. A federal constitution is a national document, drafting the rules and regulations of the government and it affects functions of government.

“A federal state is one in which there is a central authority that represents the whole and acts on behalf of the whole in the external affairs and such internal affairs as are held to be of common interest, and in which there are provincial or state authorities with powers of legislation and administration within the sphere allotted to them by the constitution.” – A. Appadorai,

In this constitution, the supreme power is divided between the central and state government and both the government is independent in their domain.

In 31st August 1957, the federal constitution of Malaya was first introduced on Merdeka Day. Similarly, In Malaysia, the federal constitution was introduced on 16th September 1963.

The federal constitution represents most of the Commonwealth nation’s constitution. In 1961, the idea of the federal constitution was born. Later on, this idea becomes an agreement. In 1963 this agreement was signed by 4 nations. This agreement is known as the Malaysia Act, 1963.

The federal constitution is the supreme law of the federal state. This constitution has a higher legal authority than ordinary laws. It is stable, the rights of citizens are secured and the judiciary has their independent power.

Some major characteristics of the federal form of the constitution are-

1. Division of power: The distinctive character of a federal constitution is a division of power between the central government and the constituent units-such as states, provinces, regions. This unit has the power to pass laws on the subjects allotted to them.

2. Division of Sovereignty: In a federal constitution, sovereignty is divided between the national and state units.

3. Dual Citizenship: In a federal constitution, it is stated that a citizen can enjoy dual citizenship. Citizens can enjoy the rights given by both the authorities. He must obey the norms of constitutions.

4. Dual Representation: In a federal constitution, the legislature is bicameral. One chamber constitutes the federating units and the other chambers serve the people of the nation.

5. Supremacy of Constitution: The central and state governments must obey the constitution. The federal constitution does not tolerate infringement.

6. Rigid: A federal constitution has the major legal authority than the other laws. It can be amended only in special circumstances. The federal constitution cannot be changed in the same way as the other laws.

The United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Nigeria have the federal form of constitution.

The constitution of a country signifies the socio-political ideas and ideals of the dominant sections of its population. Constitutions are classified as unitary and federal. Both the constitution brings harmony with the needs and ideals of the people.

Difference between a unitary and federal constitution:-

A constitution Lays down the forms of the government it regulates the distribution of power to various organs of governments Constitution have been classified as unitary and Federal constitution the major difference between unitary and federal constitution are stated below:-

1. Meaning:

In a unitary constitution, all the powers of the government are concentrated in the central authority. Whereas the federal constitution means that the government shares power in a country with all state levels and units of other agencies. A federal constitution refers to a document that frames the laws, values, and missions of a federal, or supreme, authority in a country or region.

2. Government:

In unitary constitution, there is a single power known as a central government and it controls the entire government indeed all the power and administrative authority reside in the central place. On the other hand, In the Federal constitution, there is a dual government central government and state government. A country can have two levels of the Federal government as it performs through the general body or the power prescribed by a constitution of the state.

3. Citizenship:

In a unitary constitution, a citizen can be entitled to single citizenship.  He does not enjoy the rights of another country. On the other hand, in the federal constitution, a citizen can enjoy dual citizenship. He must obey the rights of both countries.

4. Changeable:

A unitary constitution is easily changeable, where the amendment can be as simple as passing a simple part of the law. Whereas, A federal constitution is not easily changeable. It can be only amended by special circumstances.

5. Codified and Uncodified:

A unitary constitution is an uncodified constitution that is not coded structurally. The constitutions have evolved day by day and a new set of laws and guidelines are being added over time. On the other hand, the federal constitution is coded in a specific document. The constitution is the highest form of law in the country and no other law or country can violate the constitution.  The constitution generally defines the power of the state, the organs of the state, and the functions of each, the relationship between each other, and the rights of the people.

6. Government System:

In unitary constitution, the president is directly elected by the people. He is the head of government. A single government where the state has no power.  All powers are vested in a single government. On the other hand, In federal constitution, the people elect members of parliament to elect their leaders.  The federal system refers to the central state relationship.  The state has all the power to govern under the federal system.  There can only be a federation of states with powers over defense, external affairs and currency.


I want to conclude by saying that, whatever a constitution is federal or unitary – both the constitution suits the needs and aspirations of their citizens. These constitutions reflect the genius and cultural values of the nation.

This article is authored by Moumita Muhuri, 2nd year B. A. LL.B at Shyambazar Law College, University of Calcutta.

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