Government Types

In every Spotlight feature there is a section that discusses how a country's government operates, such as leadership structure, elections, and key policy issues. This post provides a handy guide below on the key terms that describe the different attributes of every country's government. 


 Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. The Canadian government is a federal system. || Wichan Yingyongsomsawas, Flickr

Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. The Canadian government is a federal system. || Wichan Yingyongsomsawas, Flickr

Structure of Power

The structure of power refers to how political power is distributed through a country's subnational divisions, it is different from the separation of powers. 

Unitary State

A country where there is no form of decentralization, the central government has all authority. If any subnational divisions exist in the country, their responsibilities are also delegated by the central government.

Devolved State

A country where there is some form of decentralization, as the country's subnational division are granted limited autonomy. However, at many times, the central government still has the final decision in most areas and can rescind that autonomy any time. Examples can be found in how the Canadian Federal government 'lends' powers to the northern Territories and how the British government grants the Scottish government a certain degree of autonomy.

Federation

A country with a significantly decentralized government that is composed of self-governing subnational division units. These subnational units typically have a large degree of autonomy and are rarely subject to the central government's authority. However, in order for a federation to be effective, leaders of the subnational units meet regularly with federal government leaders in order to maintain good relations and to establish the same policy goals. Federal governments are typically found in countries with a large geographical area or diverse ethnicity.


 The German Reichstag in Berlin. Germany is typically classified as a liberal democracy. || René Fichtmüller, Flickr

The German Reichstag in Berlin. Germany is typically classified as a liberal democracy. || René Fichtmüller, Flickr

Common Types of Government

Governments around the world often share similar characteristics. There is a good chance that many of them would fall into one of the six types below. 

Absolute Monarchy

A country where political power rests in a single ruler of a legitimate dynasty. There is usually no other government council or legislature present, and even if one exists they are subject to the will of the monarch.

Constitutional Monarchy

A country where a monarch is still present and acts as the Head of the State. However, their powers are limited by an elected government or are merely just ceremonial. Constitutional monarchies often take the form of different governments as well, they could also be liberal democracies, or they could be very authoritarian as well.

Liberal Democracy

A democratic country where fair and free elections consistently take place. They are also known as a western democracy, characterized by high degrees of civil liberties and economic freedom.

Illiberal Democracy

A country in where democratic institutions exist, but elections are often not fair and free. Civil liberties and economic freedom and are limited, and many government operations are not transparent to the public.

Authoritarian Regime

A state where the Head of State exercises considerable if not all power. The governments of these countries often only have one political party, and if multiple exist, they are usually suppressed by the one in power.

Military Dictatorship

A country where political power is controlled by the military, usually found after a successful coup has occurred. These countries are one of the world’s most unstable nations where regime changes are frequent.


 The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. || Greg Goodman, Flickr

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. || Greg Goodman, Flickr

Special Government Types

Some countries have unique forms of government and are unlike any of the common types we discussed above, they are specifically listed below. If any of these countries are featured on the Spotlight in the future, we will further discuss how their governments work. 

Andorra

Andorra is a unique constitutional monarchy, where there are two Heads of State, the current Bishop of Urgell and the sitting French President. However, all executive powers are retained by an elected government, where the leader is appointed by the parliament.

San Marino

The government of San Marino operates in the form of a representative democracy, where the elected Grand and General Council has all political power. The Council also elects two Captains Regent every six months, who act as the Heads of State with ceremonial powers. The diarchy of the Captains are derived directly from the consuls of the Roman Republic.

United Arab Emirates

The Emirates are a federation consisting of six separate Emirates each ruled by an Emir. The President is elected by the six Emirs every five years, who is the Head of the State. However, by convention the Emir of Abu Dhabi is the President which makes the position hereditary.