India celebrates her 72nd Republic Day, commemorating the day when the Constitution of India came into effect in 1950. That makes India a Constitutional Republic.
What are the other types of Republics? More importantly, what makes a country a Republic?
The word Republic" comes from the Latin res publica, which means "public affair." In modern English, a republic is a government system where the power rests with a nation's citizens. Republics use elected officials to represent the will of its citizens.
Also, in order for a country to be called a republic, its head of state has to be an elected official. Countries like India, France and Germany - which have elected presidents as heads of state - are republics, but those who have a monarch as the head of state, like Canada and the United Kingdom, are not. As of 2017, 159 of the world's 206 countries use the word "Republic" as part of their official names!
In ancient times, there were many republics. Vaishali, considered to be World's First Republic and currently an Archaeological site, is situated in Bihar district in India.
However, the most famous was the Roman Republic that existed between 509 BCE and 27 BCE. Rome was initially a monarchy – later it changed to a constitutional government.
In 509 BCE, the last Roman King, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) was overthrown and sent into exile. The Roman Senate, which comprised of Rome's noble families, decided to institute a new type of government where two elected consuls who had equal power would serve one-year terms. Over the next few centuries, the government of Rome developed a set of guidelines and principles, which later coalesced into the Roman Constitution.The Constitution remained one of the foundational governing documents of the Roman Empire until its collapse in the 5th century CE.
In a Constitutional Republic, the government is run by elected officials who are voted by the population, and those officials are required to follow the rules of government laid out by that country's constitution. Modern constitutional republics include countries like India and South Africa.
Federal Republics are countries that are actually a union of states, all of which operate as individual republics. These states have the independence to make their own laws, as long as those laws don't conflict with policies established for the entire country on the federal level. United States, Germany and Switzerland are Federal Republics.
A Parliamentary Republic uses a parliamentary form of government in which the head of state runs the executive branch of government and the head of parliament runs the legislature. The legislature itself is comprised of elected officials that are voted into office by the country's citizens. Greece, Hungary, and Malta are examples of Parliamentary Republics.
A Presidential Republic allows its citizens to elect a president to serve as the country's head of state. However, in a presidential republic, the president also serves as the head of the government like in Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia.
These types of republics have an elected head of state but are governed primarily by religious law. This means that laws and policies developed by the government must also be in line with religious law. Examples of modern theocratic republics include Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Interestingly, a country can be more than one type of Republic! For example, Iran is a parliamentary republic because it has a parliament but it also bases its governing structure on religious law, making it a theocratic republic as well. Germany too operates on the principles of both a parliamentary republic and a federal republic.
Some interesting facts about Republics:
The world’s first Republic
Vaishali, situated in Vaishali district in Bihar was established in 6th century BCE as a republic, i.e., before the birth of Gautam Buddha, thereby making it the world’s first republic.
Currently an archaeological site, Vaishali derives its name from King Vaishalik, whose heroic deeds find a reference in the Ramayana.
The world’s smallest Republic
Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country and microstate in Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Nauru is a Parliamentary republic where the president is both head of state and head of government.
The USSR had 15 Republics
The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was by area the world’s largest country. It consisted of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia (now Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya (now Kyrgyzstan), Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia (now Moldova), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The USSR was seven times the area of India and two and one-half times that of the United States. The country occupied nearly one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface!