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Dynamics of federalism

HANDBOOK OF FEDERAL COUNTRIES: Ann L. Griffiths — Editor; Published by Forum of Federations, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal. Price not mentioned.

HOW CAN people live together and govern themselves while they maintain their diversity? Political scientists are increasingly veering round to the view (despite the implosion in former Yugoslavia and disintegration of the former Soviet Union) that federalism, both in theory and practice, is a system worthy of close examination.

The Forum of Federations (based in Canada with liaison partners in different parts of the world), an international non-profit organisation, acts as a clearing house for information and resources on federalism. It believes in "building and strengthening democracy".

What is more, given the diversities and complexities of countries, which practise democracy, the Forum works for "enhancing democracy through federalism".

There is no single prescription for achieving a successful and effective federal system; each country has to evolve and adapt according to the genius of its people. At the same time, we can gain from sharing knowledge and experience.

The book under review is a result of this sharing and learning process. We can understand our challenges and opportunities better if we have a clear idea of how others, in similar situations, have coped with matters like fiscal equalisation, ethnic and linguistic diversity and Centre-State relations. The book brings together basic information about all federations in the world.

There had been other invaluable books on comparative federalism like Daniel J. Elazar's Federal Systems of the World (1994) and Roland L. Watt's Comparing Federal Systems (1999).

This book is not only an excellent companion, but also, in many ways, is more up-to-date and informative.

The term "federal" is controversial and is also an emotionally charged word. There are countries like the former Soviet Union, which called itself federal, even though it was highly centralised.

There are countries like India (nowhere in the Constitution does the word federal is mentioned), which eschew the label of federalism, but contain many federal features.

Some others, like Sri Lanka, are attempting to evolve a political system that can provide the substance of federalism in a unitary state.

In compiling this volume, the editors have included all countries which "walk and talk like federation".

They have also included countries that call themselves "federal", even though specialists might dispute their right to use the federal label.

The book contains 25 studies written by specialists on those countries. The countries range from Canada and the U.S. to Switzerland, Austria and Germany, to India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Australia.

In order to understand the dynamics of federalism in a comparative perspective, each country chapter is divided into four sections: History and development of federalism; Constitutional provisions relating to federalism; Political dynamics of the country and Sources for further information.

Keeping in mind common problems and challenges of federal states, the editors have included four comparative chapters dealing respectively with: Federalism and foreign policy; Comparative answers to globalisation; Federal political systems and accommodation of national minorities; The distribution of powers, Responsibilities and resources in federations and Asymmetrical federalism as a comprehensive framework for regional autonomy.

The book is a ready reference tool for all students of comparative politics and practitioners of federalism.


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