Unitary System: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons
A unitary system or unitary government is a governing system in which a single central government has all the power over its political subdivisions. A unitary government in contrast to a federation where governmental powers and responsibilities are divided. In a unitary state, the political subdivisions must implement the directives of the central government but they lack the power to act on their own.
In a unitary system, the central government has the final say in every decision. It can decide to create or abolish administrative decisions, and may grant some power to its local governments through “devolution.” However, the central government has the supreme power and it can repeal the powers it granted to local government.
A unitary government is in the contrast with a federal government. A federal state sees the national government as being an equal actor with the other levels of required governing. It is an organized union or alliance of partially self-governing states or other regions under a federal government. These states enjoy partial independence in their internal affairs which is contrary to what happens in a unitary government.
Examples of Unitary Government
There are more countries in the world which has a unitary system of government as compared to federations. France and United Kingdom are two well-recognized examples. Other notable unitary states include Japan, Italy, the Philippines, and the Peoples Republic of China.
Pros of Unitary System
Unitary government has been in existence for many years. It is the most popular system of government in the world. Here is a list of the pros of the unitary government.
- Less Confusion Over the Governing Process
In a unitary state, the average citizen is less confused over the governing process. As compared to a Federation, it is easy to understand the governing process in a unitary government. For example, In United States, citizens are subject to four governing bodies’ laws. If you decide to travel to a different town in a neighboring county, you are subject to the local laws. Also, you also follow the city’s rules. And you also follow different state laws. For example, if you buy something from a state where it is legal and move into another state where it is illegal, you can face problems if you don’t know about these laws.
It is a big advantage of the unitary system. The governing process is clear and citizens are allowed to do without thinking too much. It reduces the risk of unknown violations of the law.
- Quick Response in Emergency
The structure of the unitary system gives powers to a single governing body. This is helpful in emergency situations because there are not multiple layers of bureaucracy to navigate through so the resources can get to where they need to be. Whenever an unexpected situation arises like, war, riots, or a natural disaster, the government can act fast with more accuracy. There is no need to get approval from various governments. When the local government waits for the gesture of the federal government, it can create a delay.
- Less Expensive
A unitary system is run under one single structure. Because there are not many layers of bureaucracy in this system of government, there are fewer administrative costs to manage with this centralized government. It provides a smaller structure to the overall state of the nation, potentially reducing the burden on the citizens and the government won’t have to do anything. This gives financial benefits to those who are out of work for long or with a disability which keeps them out of the labor force.
- The Government is Smaller
Although the unitary government is just one governing structure, local services are also a priority. The difference between a federation and a unitary system is also how the communities get this resource and the way local officials are used. Instead of working with local officials, the centralized state will send a delegate to oversee the needs of each community. It is how government structure works in France. The country has over 1000 local subdivisions called departments. Each is run by one person appointed by the government. This makes things less confusing as just one person is running everything. It gives clarity on the responsibilities.
- Less Complex Legal System
The United States is run under the constitution. It specifically reserved some of the governing powers to the federal government. Other powers are then granted to collective states. But there are some responsibilities which are shared by both. It is not uncommon for the government and the states to see each other face to face. As a result, they turn to the supreme court for answers. The judiciary has to decide which power goes where. This can a time-consuming process. However, it is not an issue with a unitary system because there are no state or local governments.
- Can Replicate Federated States
Although the unitary system is centralized and runs under one governing body, this system can be designed in a way that replicates the style of a federated state. To deal with local matters, the government will place a delegate, ambassador, or someone in a similar position to administer local resources. Citizens can speak to officials, and voice their concerns about local matters. Then these issues are referred to the governing body to ensure that enough attention is given to the problem.
- A Unitary Government Creates Unity
The beauty of the unitary system of the government is that it strives to create a common ground. Instead of divining loyalties between states and the national government, everyone is positioned in a place where they work to support one another. It can be found when the elections are held, and the results of these elections reflect the diversity found in society. On the other hand, the federate system especially where there are two parties, seems to be more of a compromised system.
Cons of Unitary System
While the unitary system has many characteristics which makes it popular in the world. But, there are some drawbacks as well. Here are some cons or disadvantages of a unitary government.
- Lack the Necessary Infrastructure
A good thing about this system is that it can make decisions quickly but this type of government can lack the infrastructure necessary to implement the government’s choices. For example, during an emergency when there is not enough local support available for the communities this centralized administration can leave the resolution up to the local decision-makers instead of intervening. Since delegates may not have absolute power, the people don’t always get the help they need. There are times when the absence of an independent local government can do more harm than good.
- Local Needs are Ignored
Having a local government on different levels like local, county, and state-level is that it can concentrate on local needs without interfering on the national level. Take the United States as an example, where the federal government deals with providing defense, managing transportation networks, and providing resources for those who don’t have socioeconomic access. In this case, local government can focus on the micro-economy, creating solutions for the problems of the community and support the national government with their actions.
Since the unitary government functions through a centralized structure, sometimes it can fail to meet local needs. When the international situations become more important, during to some international issues, domestic can be ignored.
- An Abuse of Power is Possible
In a unitary government, power is usually held by a legislative body or a single individual. These people or governing agencies are responsible for every decision that is made while they are in office. Due to a lack of accountability, the person in charge can abuse the power. Looking back at history we can see that when the power is held by few people or just one, then it is abused far too easily.
This is the reason why the United States has created a federated state instead. There are accountability and a system of check and balances which provide more equality in the governing process.
- Easy to Manipulate
It is easy to do things quickly in a unitary system due to a lack of bureaucracy, but this structure makes it easy for people to manipulate the system. If the person in power wants to pursue more wealth or governing opportunities for themselves then there are not many ways to stop them. In such a system that offers a chance to manipulate the system the majority of the population must pay for the personal gains of the power holder.
- The Central Governing Body is Prioritized
Under a unitary system, there is a central governing body. This government puts the national needs first over the local needs. It means the decisions it makes are made keeping in view of its own survival first instead of taking the interests of the population under consideration. It results in some citizens not getting the help or the resources they need.
- The Individual States Unable to Make Their Own Decisions
In many cases, a unitary government offers no degree of autonomy to the areas under its control, and this prevents them from deciding their own laws at any time. Such a government is found in Romania Ireland and Norway. In a unitary system, each state exists but only under the umbrella of the central government.
- The People Aren’t Always Heard
People in a unitary system love their country as much as those living in a federal system. It is a major disadvantage of unitary government that people are rarely given an opportunity to interact with government officials. If there is a policy change under the central government, there might not be anything that the general population can do to stop that process from happening.
- Possible Delay of Emergency Assistance
In a unitary government, the emergency assistance on the government level comes through quickly, it can have the exact opposite effect for states. In case of an individual state needing help, one delegate is sent and there is a lot of bureaucracy that needs to be navigated for things to get done. If the states keep waiting for much-needed resources, the citizens needing help are the ones who suffer.
A unitary system is the most common form of government found in the world. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to this system of government.