6 types of constitution: their advantages and disadvantages

6 types of constitution: their advantages and disadvantages

At its most basic, a constitution is an instrument that embodies the rules of a social, legal, or political organization. It can be viewed as a contract between the people and the government. Typically, constitutions contain the fundamental laws and principles of nations, social groups, or states. These instruments also determine the duties and powers of those in office and safeguard the rights of the people. As with other different aspects that define nations, there are various types of constitutions in different parts of the world.

Types of constitutions
Types of constitutions. Photo: pixabay.com, @succo
Source: UGC

The Constitution contains the most important rules of a country's political system and determines the decision-making institutions. It identifies the supreme power and how power should be distributed for effective decision-making. Moreover, constitutions also protect the rights of the people and explain their obligations.

What are the 6 types of Constitutions?

The six main types of constitutionalism in the world are;

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  • Written and unwritten constitutions
  • Presidential and parliamentary constitutions
  • Republican and monarchical constitutions
  • Unitary and federal constitutions
  • Flexible and rigid constitutions
  • Democratic constitutions
  • Complex or simple constitutions

Nations use different types of constitutions depending on their governance. Below are classifications of constitutions the world uses and more information about them.

Written and unwritten constitutions

types of constitution
Written and unwritten constitutions. Photo: pixabay.com, @ArtsyBeeKids
Source: UGC

An unwritten constitution is not contained in a single document and can exist partly in words and partly in writing. Such a constitution grows from years of experience and people's political behavior. The best example of this is the British Constitution. It does not exist in one document but can be found in judicial decisions, conventions, and statutes.

On the other hand, a written constitution is among the world's three main types of constitutions. It is a single document and can be consulted on almost every issue. This type of law is typically rigid but can still be amended when necessary.

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Merits of a written constitution

Here are the main advantages of a written constitution:

  • It is very definite, removing any drawbacks that uncertainties can bring about.
  • Since it is drawn after long and elaborate deliberations, this type of Constitution is based on knowledge and experience, not emotions and hastily-made decisions.
  • It protects the rights of individuals since those in power cannot easily change them.
  • It is among the most stable law structures and best suited for an emergency period in a country.
  • For federal governments, a written constitution provides for the separation of central and federal power.
Types of constitutions
Written and unwritten constitutions. Photo: pexels.com, @Egor Komarov
Source: UGC

Demerits of a written constitution

Below are the cons of a written constitution:

  • It is quite difficult to amend, making it too rigid.
  • Some clauses in such documents depend on the judicial interpretation that, at times, might not be ideal.
  • It encompasses a nation’s entire rules and ideals, a factor that might be less than ideal for some ages.
  • It can be too exhaustive.

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Merits of an unwritten constitution

Here are some advantages of an unwritten constitution:

  • It is easily adaptable to a country’s changing circumstances. Laws can be added or removed as necessary.
  • It efficiently safeguards the traditions of a country.

Demerits of an unwritten constitution

Below are the demerits of a constitution that is not written:

  • It has been criticized as being vague and indefinite. The ordinary person cannot refer to any particular document to understand governance.
  • At times, unwritten laws can result in considerable instability.
  • The judiciary tends to overplay its role in a country governed by an unwritten law.
  • It is said that such a constitution is not ideal for a democracy.

Presidential and parliamentary constitution

types of constitutions
Presidential and parliamentary constitutions. Photo: pixabay.com, @Mohamed_hassan
Source: UGC

A presidential constitution is one in which all the executive powers are vested in the country's president, who serves as the head of government and state. The president then has the liberty to exercise his powers directly or through his deputy president, cabinet secretaries, or other officers.

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A parliamentary constitution is one in which the executive powers are vested in a prime minister, who heads the government and the majority party. However, he is not the head of state.

Merits of a presidential constitution

Here are some main pros of a presidential constitution:

  • There is a clear separation of powers among the executive, legislature, and judiciary in a presidential system.
  • It provides for the formation of an expert government since those appointed to office do not necessarily have to be part of the legislature.
  • There is less influence from the party system.
  • Since the president’s tenure is fixed, the country has more stability since it is unlikely to have an unplanned shift in power.

Demerits of a presidential constitution

These are some key demerits of a presidential constitution:

  • It can result in an irresponsible executive arm of government. This happens because the executive is not answerable to the legislature.
  • There can often be deadlocks between the legislature and the executive.
  • The president has sweeping powers, a factor that may give rise to patronage when they appoint their close friends to powerful positions.
  • The president’s fixed tenure can result in a rigid government.

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Pros of a parliamentary constitution

Here are the main Merits of a parliamentary constitution:

  • There is better coordination between the legislature and the executive.
  • A parliamentary government is, in most cases, more responsible than a presidential government.
  • It results in flexibility since the prime minister can be quickly ousted from power.

Disadvantages of a parliamentary constitution

Below are some cons of a parliamentary constitution:

  • There needs to be a proper separation of power in this system. As a result, the legislature cannot blame the executive for the non-implementation of the nation's policies.
  • At times, the country might find itself with a highly unqualified legislature.
  • The system could be more stable since the prime minister has a fixed term.

Republican and monarchical constitutions

three main types of constitutions
Republican and monarchical constitutions. Photo: pexels.com, @Pixabay
Source: UGC

A republican constitution provides for the position of a head of state, typically elected by the people for a fixed term in office. In most cases, the head of state is known as the president. On the other hand, a monarchical one provides for a government led by an emperor, a king, or a queen.

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The head of government in a monarchy is usually succeeded by their child, which goes on from generation to generation. There are different types of constitutions under the monarchical setup.

  • Absolute monarch: This is one in which the monarch has absolute powers of governance. Historical examples include Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and the former Shah of Iran, Reza Palavi.
  • Constitutional monarch: The monarch is a ceremonial head of state and a symbol of the nation.

Merits of a monarchical constitution

Here are some main upsides of a monarchical constitution.

  • Since the head of state remains in power for long, countries under such laws tend to be stable.
  • The future head of state is usually well prepared since they are trained from birth.
  • Since the monarch is not a politician, they can remain neutral on matters that otherwise cause divisions.
  • There are no election costs in monarchs.
  • Advocates of this type of law argue that it results in less corruption since the person in power does not need to loot as much as possible before their term ends.

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Disadvantages of a constitutional monarchy

These are some of the downsides of a constitutional monarchy:

  • There is no democracy in a monarch since the head of state is not elected. Therefore, the people have little to no say in whoever governs the country.
  • Not all monarchs are competent leaders. While they can be equipped with the necessary skills for many years, they may not be able to lead people.
  • Monarchs can easily impose their personal beliefs and preferences on the people.
  • Royal families in monarchs lead expensive lifestyles that could burden the citizens.
  • Critics of this system argue that it results in more corruption since the justice system often overlooks the atrocities committed by royal families.
6 types of constitutions
Republican and monarchical constitutions. Photo: pixabay.com, @sergeitokmakov
Source: UGC

Merits of a republican constitution

Here are the main advantages of a republican constitution:

  • A republican constitution is representative since leaders are elected through the people's will.
  • Having representatives makes government more efficient, resulting in faster and better implementation of the people's will.
  • A republican system is democratic since people elect their rulers and can question or vote them out.
  • It protects the people's rights through law and order.

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Disadvantages of a republican constitution

These are some key disadvantages of a republican constitution:

  • The Constitution can be expensive, especially when electing people into office.
  • Such systems work best in small nations and communities.
  • Bills passed by the country's legislative arm must undergo numerous processes before becoming law. This process results in unnecessary delays that do not exist in other forms of constitutions, such as monarchs.
  • The law provides for the existence of numerous political parties. This provision often results in highly contested elections, a potential trigger for violence and rebellion.
  • Politicians can easily deceive the masses to get into power if a country has low literacy levels and poor education systems.

Democratic constitution

different types of constitutions
Democratic constitution. Photo: pixabay.com, @mohamed_hassan
Source: UGC

Democracy is derived from two Greek words, 'demos' and 'kratia.' The former means people, while the latter implies government or rule. Democracy, therefore, loosely translates to the people's power.

A democratic constitution provides for the people's participation in government directly or through elected representatives. Conventionally, a democratic government should reflect the people’s generality and must be created and installed by the people.

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Advantages of a democratic constitution

Here are the main benefits of a democratic constitution:

  • Democracies tend to be more accountable to the people. This is especially true when people elect suitable leaders who represent their interests.
  • The law improves the overall quality of decision-making.
  • There are laid down procedures for dealing with conflicts and differences.

Disadvantages of a democratic constitution

Here are some disadvantages of a democratic constitution:

  • Most times, democracies turn into competitions for power play, completely disregarding morality.
  • The bureaucracy in democracies leads to unnecessary delays in decision-making.
  • Democracies often have high levels of corruption since they are primarily based on electoral competition.

Unitary and federal constitutions

types of constitution
Unitary and federal constitutions. Photo: pexels.com, @Sora Shimazaki
Source: UGC

A unitary constitution bestows power on a single central government. This central body does not share its power but can delegate it to subordinate bodies such as local and regional governments.

On the other hand, a federal constitution shares power among local authorities, states, and federal bodies. Each body exercises its assigned functions and powers.

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Advantages of a unitary constitution

Here are the main pros of a unitary constitution.

  • In a unitary system, the people only owe their allegiance to one central body of power. This can result in improved national unity.
  • The system is excellent for countries that occupy significantly small areas.
  • The system is considerably cheaper to run since not all local authorities, states, and federal bodies require funding from the central government.
  • It allows quick decision-making.
  • Development tends to be even nationwide since the central government is responsible for developing every part of the country.

Disadvantages of a unitary constitution

Below are some cons of a unitary constitution:

  • The people can experience slow government response on defense and emergencies when the national government mobilizes all resources.
  • The burden of work can become quite heavy for those in government.
  • Unitary systems can easily evolve into dictatorships.
  • Areas neglected for political reasons can be left out of development agendas.
  • Under a unitary system, most people look up to the government to initiate and implement development initiatives, which could stifle local initiatives.

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6 types of constitution
Unitary and federal constitutions. Photo: pexels.com, @qimono
Source: UGC

Advantages of a federal constitution

Here are the main benefits of a federal constitution:

  • In a federal system, a person can compare political, social, and economic systems in different states and relocate to one they find more suitable. In addition, this system recognizes a citizen’s right to exit a state.
  • The system allows economic, social, and political experimentation since power is shared across states.
  • This system works great for large countries such as the USA and Australia.
  • The laws are accommodative to economic and cultural differences across different states.
  • Federations tend to be more democratic since leaders are answerable at multiple levels, not only the top government.
  • The division of powers in this system hampers the potential rise of despotic rulers, protecting the people’s liberty.
  • The law makes it easier to make decisions since the people can supervise the government at different levels.

Disadvantages of a federal constitution

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These are the main disadvantages of a federal constitution:

  • The system can result in significant economic disparities across states. This results from a phenomenon known as race-to-the-bottom, in which states compete to attract investments by lowering taxes. Eventually, state-centered decisions overtake national interests.
  • This type of constitution is unsuitable for tiny countries.

Flexible and rigid constitution

types of constitution
Flexible and rigid constitutions. Photo: pexels.com, @Tara Winstead
Source: UGC

The people can easily change a flexible constitution without following a cumbersome process. Amending laws in this constitution simply needs a majority vote in parliament.

On the other hand, a rigid constitution has an elaborate, and at times cumbersome, procedures that govern any amendments. Such procedures often involve a two-thirds vote in parliament, a popular vote by the people, or ratification through a referendum.

Advantages of a flexible constitution

Here are the main benefits of a flexible constitution:

  • It can be amended with ease. This makes it easier to adjust laws to meet the people's or country’s changing needs.
  • The laws are quite elastic, thus drastically reducing the chances of a revolution by the people. On the other hand, in rigid constitutions, people can easily feel that the current laws do not address their needs and turn to revolutions to get their way.
  • The Constitution is excellent for a country's development since it can easily factor in its evolution in terms of technology, education, politics, and social factors. Moreover, the document is premised on the idea that there can never be a perfect set of laws applicable at all times. It, therefore, leaves room for possible changes.
  • The laws reflect a nation’s historical continuity.

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Disadvantages of a flexible constitution

Here are the basic cons of a flexible constitution:

  • Due to its overly flexible nature, this Constitution's rules keep changing. This could satisfy the needs of those in power, completely disregarding the minorities.
  • It can easily result in administrative instability.
  • When the amendment procedure is too simple, popular opinions can overly influence the laws. The downside is that popular passion is influenced by emotion rather than reason. Therefore, relying on popular ideas to amend the country’s laws can result in disharmony and imbalance.
  • It is unsuitable for a country premised on a federal system.
6 types of constitutions
Republican and monarchical constitutions. Photo: pixabay.com, @sergeitokmakov
Source: UGC

Advantages of a rigid constitution

Here are the main benefits of a rigid constitution:

  • It is premised on stability and performance. Such constitutions are written with the knowledge and experience of learned people, resulting in improved efficiency.
  • It safeguards people’s rights against legislative encroachment.
  • It protects the rights of the minority through judicial systems.
  • It is free from the perils of temporary popular passion. Moreover, due to the cumbersome amendment procedures, the laws are less prone to changes resulting from people’s emotions.

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Disadvantages of a rigid constitution

Here are the main disadvantages of a rigid constitution:

  • At times, amendments are essential, but rigid laws make it challenging to make the necessary changes.
  • Rigid laws are unsuitable for progressive nations in which amendments happen frequently.
  • Under such a law, the judiciary's primary role is only to see whether the law conforms to the provisions of the Constitution. This might result in the abandonment of more pressing issues, especially in highly progressive countries.

What are the types of constitutions that were used in Nigeria?

An Order in Council established Nigeria's first constitutions during the colonial era when the country was a Crown Colony. These constitutions include the Clifford Constitution (1922), the Richards Constitution (1946), the Macpherson Constitution (1951), and the Lyttleton Constitution (1954).

What is the current constitution in Nigeria?

Nigeria uses the 1999 constitution, which created the Fourth Nigerian Republic.

How do you cite the constitution of Nigeria?

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The correct citation of Nigeria's constitution is “the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999."

What are the core human rights in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

The fundamental human rights contained in the constitution of Nigeria are:

  • The right to life
  • The right to dignity of the human person
  • The right to personal liberty
  • The right to a fair hearing
  • The right to private and family life
  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
  • The right to freedom of expression and press
  • The right to peaceful assembly and association
  • The right to freedom of movement
  • The right to freedom from discrimination
  • The right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria

What is the earliest constitution in the world?

The Republic of San Marino has the world's oldest surviving national Constitution, which came into force on October 8, 1600. It is a set of six Latin texts called "The Statutes of 1600."

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Which country has the oldest unwritten constitution?

The Republic of San Marino has an uncodified constitution dating from 1600. It is a single document contained in six volumes.

Who is the father of the written Constitution?

James Madison, America's 4th president (1809-1817), write the first US Constitution — The Federalist Papers — alongside John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. This was after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Madison was referred to as the “Father of the Constitution” in later years.

Who wrote the final draft of the Constitution?

Gouverneur Morris was the first person in the world to write the Constitution's final draft. After five weeks of the Constitutional Convention, a committee of style was appointed to prepare a final version. Gouverneur Morris did most of the work and was later known as the "penman of the Constitution."

What is the smallest constitution in the world?

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The Constitution of Japan is the smallest in the world with only 4,000 words. Although it is small in size, this a democratic constitution is modern and covers all human rights. It also provides for a system of separation of powers.

Which country has the strongest Constitution?

India has the biggest democracy and largest constitution in the world as well. Its written constitution has 145,000 words.

Which country has the most flexible constitution?

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is the most flexible worldwide. It is unwritten, and British Parliament can pass, amend, or any constitutional law.

What are the types of constitutional governments?

Federal and unitary are the two basic types of constitutional governments. Unitary governments are centralized, while federal governments decentralize power to regions, cantons, provinces, or states. Both governments are democratic and common throughout the world.

Can I write a constitution?

You can write a constitution for a group of people, e.g., your family, a student organization, a club, and more. You can check examples of constitutions online and use them as guides when drafting yours.

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The different types of constitutions have their merits and demerits and instances in which they are best suited. To date, none seems overly superior to the other, as proven by the existence of the different types in various countries worldwide.

DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

Legit.ng shared an article about Cross River State's local governments. The state is in Southern Nigeria and borders Cameroon to the east. It is named after the Cross River, whose native name is Oyono.

Cross River state's capital, Calabar, sits on a hill near the Calabar River and is renowned for its colonial-era British architecture. It also serves as an important port city to the Cross River State and Nigeria.

Source: Legit.ng

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