Centralization: What Form?

  • Issue: how much centralization of power into the hands of a State government?
    • classification = 4 types
  • 1. Unitary
    • central State government = all powers & govern whole state
    • no legal challenger in political system, unlcss created by central government
    • most common form: 150 states
    • often: no constitution but traditional rules
    • egs?
  • 2. Devolution
    • central government creates lower levels of government with varied law-making and administrative powers and roles
    • central government hands over responsibilities, money, etc., to a lower level
    • central government can remove powers, etc., or get rid of lower levels
    • egs?
  • 3. Federalism
    • central governments shares power with lower level governments — regional, states, provinces, cantons, districts, parishes, etc.
    • usually has a constitution delineating which level of government has which power, but some overlapping or dual jurisdiction areas
    • usually have a bicameral legislature, with one section providing representational equity amongst sub-units of the State
    • in case of conflict of powers or jurisdiction, residual powers belong to central government
    • egs?
  • 4. Confederation
    • similar to federalism BUT residual powers belong to lower levels of government


  • many states have a constitution: “a set of fundamental rules and principles by which a state is organized”
    • most: written constitution
    • few: unwritten constitution = no single unified document but numerous laws and rules form a constitution
  • usual elements:
    • rights of citizens vis-a-vis other citizens and their government(s)
    • division of powers of the central/top level: legislative, executive, judicial
    • division of powers between different levels of government
    • procedures for changing constitution
    • can include conventions
  • branches of government:
    • legislative: make general laws
    • executive: take general laws and make into specific rules, policies and procedures, and enforce them; includes bureaucracy
    • judicial: adjudicate matters of law, determine punishment for crimes, etc.
  • judicial review vs. legislative or executive supremacy
    • some states and constitutions have legislative or executive supremacy: constitution and other institutions are subordinate to the legislature’s or executive’s laws or final decisions
    • judicial review
      • courts overruling legislatures or executives
      • assert their power as final interpreter / arbiter of meaning / spirit of constitutional provisions
      • strike down legislation or rules as unconstitutional

Parliamentary and Presidential

  • two main forms of democratic government derived from British system
  • key question: how are powers divided at the top/central level?
  • usually have a bicameral legislature
  • Parliamentary
    • fusion of powers: executive able to propose and usher through legislation, and then enforce it; creates concentration of power, but may increase effective governance
    • parliamentary supremacy: top legislative body cannot be overruled by other institutions or constitution
    • responsible government: government and its leader are accountable to Parliament’s members
    • usually have a prime minister as Head of Government, and a president or monarch as Head of State (ceremonial, to greet foreign dignatories, sign passed legislation, etc.)
  • Presidential
    • separation of powers: executive, legislative, judicial are separate branches and one can only sit in one of them; prevents concentration of power, but may limit effective governance
    • checks-and-balances: each branch of government is a check upon the other, and balances out the power of the others
    • judicial review: courts take role in using constitution to trump other branches of government
    • president and legislative representatives are accountable to “the people” through general elections
  • many states have hybrid systems, such as France, Iran, and India

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