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Federal or Unitary ?

We all know that the federal and unitary systems are the types of democracy and each system has its own merits and demerits. However, we have to go for our country-suited democratic system where all people can enjoy their equitable democratic rights with dignity and opportunity.

Federalism also refers to as federal government, a national or international political system in which two levels of government control the same territory and citizens. The word federal comes from the Latin term …

fidere, meaning “to trust.” Countries with federal political systems have both a central government and governments based in smaller political units, usually called states, provinces, or territories. These smaller political units surrender some of their political power to the central government, relying on it to act for the common good.

In a federal system, laws are made both by state, provincial, or territorial governments and by a central government. Besides, there are two state bodies of executive, legislature and judiciary. We can take an example that if our country goes to federal system then the people who live in the state of Terai (lets say) must obey the laws made by the Terai legislature and the Central Government of Nepal.

Federal political system divides power and resources between central and regional governments. The balance of power between the two levels of government varies from country to country, but most federal systems grant substantial autonomy to state or provincial governments. Central government decides issues that concern the whole country, such as organizing an army, foreign policy, monetary policy, building major roads, transport and communications system, and making treaties with other countries. Federalism varies in practice, however, and in some countries with federal systems the central government plays a large role in community planning, schools, and other local issues.

Unitary system is a system on which laws giving virtually all authority to the central government. The central government may delegate duties to cities or other administrative units, but it retains final authority and can retract any tasks it has delegated. The central government in a unitary system is much more powerful than the central government in a federal system.

The unitary form of the government involves a country or an organization consisting of a number of areas or groups that are joined together and are controlled by one government or a group which is centrally located. The unitary government is the one in which the ruling power and authority is centralized and located at central government where central government possesses authority for national affairs and state management. In unitary system, central government is solely responsible for service delivery and local government acts as an agent of the central government. Local bodies receive authority form the central but they cannot enjoy complete autonomy. Here, the constitution ensures and empowers the central government to take decisions, formulate plans and policies, budget and legislation and implements them through different administrative tools. Local government are seldom empowered to take won decision but the central can overturn and revise them but small decisions can be taken without central reference at the time of emergency.


The above descriptions are of the federal and unitary systems. In contextualizing the two systems in our country, our country should go for federal system on which equitable distribution of resources and equal benefit sharing mechanism can be possible. The federal system protects the spirit and merits of democracy where the state government is empowered to handle local power. Federal system provides good political education and training to local people and helps to develop local leadership. It will reduce the overburden of central government so that well mechanized and systematic endeavors can be initiated through own initiations of provincial government. Besides, there are multiple reasons for why we Nepali want federalism. Federalism is for good governance, self determination, easy access to public services, for recognition of diversity and difference.

The unitary system of Nepal could not address the social, economic and cultural rights as well as resources of all people in equitable manner so that we need federal system where we can enjoy de jure political set up and people’s supremacy from local to central level. Meanwhile, we can take an example of 25 percent of the landless people as reveled by the census of 2001. So, what happened to all of the countless commissions on the landless people formed by different government of unitary system in the past? Who got land and why did this become a vicious cycle at the politico-bureaucratic level? How do we overcome such a national crisis? Will the piecemeal approaches of a central government could reduce poverty or induce further? Thus why not build a new system of federal one so that poverty could be dealt at the local and regional levels by attacking it indigenously? Let the people plan and implement their development agenda themselves.

We have to bear in mind that Nepal is a highly heterogeneous country. The people of different ethnic and linguistic groups discriminated and marginalized for centuries. They need to be empowered to ensure that they enjoy authority to determine their won common good through self governance. Large ethnic and linguistic groups must have a say in the decision-making process. That’s why we need federal system.

Besides, the immediate goal of our country is to enhance socio-economic development through people’s participation at all levels from local to central governments. The participatory democracy establishment concept is only possible when there is a space for all to voice their concerns. And in federal system only, the concept of the same can be implemented meaningfully. Since the centralized system of Nepal heralded no substantial change as expected, and there exists a very high inertia at the top level for power decentralization, a federal system is a viable option to implement the participatory democracy. The primary mission of the federal system is to empower the people so that all sorts of injustices such as social, economical, ecological and cultural ones will be eliminated.

Moreover, we must understand that the ‘equality in cultures and languages’ is the only basis of the national unity and in federal system only such principle can be found. So, considering our country’s diversified cultures and languages, federal system is indispensable. In the same way, in society like Nepal which has been ruled by a centralized form of government for decades and local people have been excluded from central services, should be transformed into democratic society by decentralizing the powers vertically so as to enable all groups’ powers to rule. Thus, federal system is necessary to form Nepal into a ‘nation state’ belonging Nepali equally. Similarly, federalism is basis for consolidating democracy, without which the protection of individual liberty is impossible. The federal means of promoting the individual liberty and freedoms. So, federal system is appropriate for our country. However, it is the duty of people of all walks of life to remind each other that rights and responsibilities should go hand in hand rather than exploit the crisis situation to satisfy their vested interest.

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