Characteristics of Federalism

Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:03 -- Umar Farooq

Characteristics of Federalism

The following are the important characteristics of federalism also known as federal form of government.

Supremacy of the Constitution an important Feature of Federalism

A federation is an agreement between two or more sovereign states to create a new state in which each will exercise specific powers. This agreement is in the shape of the constitution. The constitution defines and explains the powers and the jurisdiction of each government. For this purpose the constitution is considered to be the supreme law in the federation. No central or provincial, which is against the constitution, can be enforced. Similarly if a change is desired in the constitution, it must be according to the method provided by the constitution. Supremacy of the constitution means:

  1. A Written Constitution:Since it is an agreement, it must be in the written form so that there are no doubts about the powers and functions of each set of government. A written thing is generally very clear.
  2. Rigid Constitution: It means that there should be a definite and difficult method of amending the constitution. In this way it will remain supreme.
  3. Sovereignty of the Amending Body:  Since both the federal and the provincial government derive their powers from the constitution, neither can be sovereign. So sovereignty lies with the body which has the power to amend the constitution.

Distribution of Powers

In federalism the powers are divided between the federal and the provincial governments. There is no uniform method for the distribution of powers. The general and the basic principle is that matters of local importance are given to the provinces and that of national importance to the federal government. Besides this there are the following three methods of distribution of powers commonly used in the world today:

  1. American Method: Under this method powers of the central government are written down and the remaining powers known as the residuary powers are given to the provinces. The aim behind this method is to keep the center weak and the provinces strong. This method is used in the USA.
  2. Canadian Method:This is just opposite of the American method. Under this system the powers of the provinces are written down in the constitution and residuary powers are given to the federal government. The idea is to make the center strong. This method is used in Canada.
  3. Indian Method: This method was introduced in India under the Act of 1935. Under this method three lists are drawn. One contains the powers of the federal government called the Federal List. Similarly there is the Provincial List and then there is the third list, which is, called Concurrent List containing the powers, which can be exercised by both the governments. In case of conflict between the federal and provincial law regarding the concurrent subject, the central law will prevail.

Supremacy of Judiciary

Constitution is an important document and the basic law of the country. A federation can remain intact only when the constitution remains inviolable. For this purpose there must be an agency to seek and judge whether or not the two governments have violated the constitution. This agency is called the judiciary. It can perform this function only when it remains supreme. This means that the judiciary has to perform the following function:

  1. Whenever there is a dispute regarding any provision of the constitution judiciary has to interpret it.
  2. It has the duty to declare any law whether central or provincial as unconstitutional if it is in conflict with the constitution. This is called the power of judicial review.
  3. Since the formal method of amending the constitution is normally very difficult, it is the judiciary, which by its liberal interpretation of the provisions of the constitution makes it flexible and workable. This is called the Doctrine of implied powers.

Bicameral Legislature

A federal state has two kinds of governments having different interests and rights. There is, therefore, a need for the protection of these rights and interests. This can be done only when there is a bicameral legislature. The two houses represent the two interests. Normally the Lower House represents the interests of the nation and the upper house represents the interests of the provinces. Normally representation in the Lower House is based on population and for the upper house the principle of parity is followed that is whether a state is small or large it will have equal number of seats. This method is followed in USA and in Pakistan