There are various types of constitution, among which are the following.
1) FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
A federal constitution refers to one in which government powers that exist in the country are shared between the two tiers of government – a central government that represents the country and the government of component regions or states, so that each government is legally and constitutionally independent and autonomous. A country that adopts this type of constitution is known as a federation and the system is referred to as a federal system of government. The federal polity in other words, provides a constitutional device for bringing unity in diversity and for the achievement of common national goals. K.C. Wheare defines federal government as “an association of states, which has been formed for certain common purposes, but in which the member states retain a large measure of their original independence.”
A federal constitution has the following features:
- Constitution should be a written one.
- Rigid procedure of amendment.
- Distribution of powers between state and centre.
- Supremacy of judiciary.
Examples of countries operating a federal constitution are as follows: Nigeria, USA, Austria, Brazil, Germany, Ethiopia, India, Argentina, Switzerland, Comoros, etc.
Merits of Federal Constitution
- It is suitable for a country having a diversity of race, religion and language.
- Local needs are met effectively.
- Responsibilities of the central government are lessened.
- People get training in the act of self-government.
- Small states can have dignity and be safe from foreign aggression.
Demerits of Federal Constitution
- It is inefficient because of diversity of law and administration.
- There is always a tug-of-war between – national and local interests.
- It is highly expensive.
2) UNITARY CONSTITUTION
A unitary constitution refers to one that concentrates governmental powers and authority in a single central government or legislature. All power is top down. A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as one single entity in which the central government is supreme and any administrative divisions (sub-national units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate.
Examples of countries with unitary constitutions are the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Kingdom of Norway, Benin, Burundi, China, Cuba, Fiji, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, Czech Republic, East Timor, Egypt, etc.
Merits of a Unitary Constitution
- Strong government: It is a source of strong, stable, all powerful government.
- Single Administration: It ensures uniform administration for the whole of the state.
- Simple and less expensive
- Flexibility in Administration: It can easily adapt to changing social needs and environment because the central government can amend the constitution as and when required.
- Suitable for small states: Due to its simplicity, less expensiveness and strength.
- Responsible for its work: Since a single government runs the whole show, the responsibility of any lapse can be easily fixed.
- Can be very useful in meeting emergencies: being an all-powerful government, the central government can take all necessary decisions quickly and implement these with full force.
Demerits of a Unitary Constitution
- Central government is excessively powerful: There is a likely possibility for central dictatorship or despotism over local areas. In the works of E.B. Schulz, “The primary objection to the unitary system is the lack of formal safeguards against centralization of government functions”.
- Danger of inefficiency: The central government often behaves inefficiently because of being overburdened with all the work.
- Ignores local needs: it very often fails to satisfy local needs because of being located at the central and faced with pressing national problems.
- Unsuitable for big states: It is only suitable for small and homogeneous states.
- More dependent on bureaucracy: It is more bureaucratic.
- Less chances for popular participation in the working of government: It provides less opportunities for political participation of the people being a system governed by a single central government.
- Less of local autonomy and initiative: It is less democratic and thus, kills local initiative and discourages popular interest in public affairs.
3) CONFEDERAL CONSTITUTION
The constitution reserves powers to the central government in only certain matters that affect all the nations or autonomous states involved. Confederal constitution makes the component states very powerful, while the central government becomes weak. In confederation, the component states retain sovereignty, identity, own army, and the constitutional right to secede from the confederation.
Examples of confederations are UNO, ECOWAS, EEU, IBRD. Countries whose constitutions are close to that of a confederation are Belgium and Canada.
- Decentralizaton of power: the states are the decision makers, legislation and execution is divided among the provincial and local governments, thus reducing the risk of the centre turning into a dominant union or tyranny.
- Cooperation: It makes every state independent and sovereign unit of the federation. Agreement among these equals makes decisions over common issues easier.
- Financial powers: a major drawback of this system is that, the centre does not enjoy any power regarding taxation.
- Sustenance: It is not popular across the world. This type of government is not a long lasting one because it is seen as a transformation period (as countries are seen as transforming from a confederation to a federation).