Capital districts and territories

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A capital district, capital region or capital territory is normally a specially designated administrative division where a country's seat of government is located. As such, in a federal model of government, no state or territory has any political or economic advantage relative to the others because of the national capital lying within its borders. A capital territory can be a specific form of federal district.

A distinction should be made from administrative divisions which include national capitals, but have no special designated status legally (for example, Île de France has no distinct quality from other regions of France). Some federal countries (like Belgium and Germany), give their national capitals the status as full, equal federal units.

Some federal countries have made no distinction administratively for the territory around the capital. A few federal countries have their national capitals located in the capital city of a federal state: Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is also the capital of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of federal units and de jure capital of Republika Srpska, the other federal unit; further, Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is the capital of the Canton of Bern.

Two national capitals in federal countries are neither federal units, special capital districts, nor capitals of federal units: Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and Palikir, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia. The Canadian government does designate the Ottawa area as the National Capital Region, although this term merely represents the jurisdictional area of the government agency that administers federally owned lands and buildings, and is not an actual political unit. The city of Ottawa is governed as a regular city.

In some non-federal countries there are capital cities that do not belong to any region, but have a special status, for example Oslo in Norway. In some countries the region including the capital does not have special significance, but have names hinting that. For example, the Capital Region of Denmark is a name of a normal national region.

The following have a special administrative district or territory for their national capital cities:


Class name Term for capital Example
Capital area Yes Seoul Capital Area
Capital district Yes Distrito Capital (Colombia); Capital District (Venezuela); Capital District, New York; Niamey Capital District
Capital region Yes Capital Region of Denmark
Capital territory Yes Australian Capital Territory, Islamabad Capital Territory
Federal capital territory Yes Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria
Federal district No Distrito Federal (Mexico)
National capital district Yes National Capital District (Papua New Guinea)
National capital region Yes National Capital Region (Canada), National Capital Region (India), National Capital Region (Japan), National Capital Region (Philippines)
National capital territory Yes National Capital Territory of Delhi
Neutral municipality No Neutral Municipality


The Buenos Aires city, previously in the Federal District of Argentina. In 1996, under the 1994 reform of the Argentine Constitution, the city gained autonomous city status, and changed its formal name to Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, and held its first mayoral elections. Buenos Aires is represented in the Argentine Senate by three senators and in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies by 25 national deputies.


The Australian Capital Territory is one of two self-governing internal territories of the Commonwealth of Australia, the other being the Northern Territory. Created in 1911, the ACT was originally called the Federal Capital Territory, the current name being acquired in 1938. The ACT was constituted specifically to house the seat of government, the goal being to avoid situating the new nation's capital Canberra in either New South Wales or Victoria, the two most populous states. The ACT is an enclave of New South Wales.

Although the ACT has its own Chief Minister and its own legislature (the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly), the Federal Parliament retains the right to overrule ACT legislation. While governing the entire ACT, the Legislative Assembly acts as a municipal/state government. The Governor-General of Australia exercises certain rights that in the states would be exercised by the governor, such as the power to issue writs for elections.

At a federal level, the ACT and the NT both elect two Senators, with the ACT electing 3 members of the House of Representatives and the NT two. The terms of the territory senators are tied to the term of the House of Representatives, not to the term of the Senate. This means that if there is an election for the Senate only (as last happened in 1970), this would involve only half the state senators, and the territory senators' terms would continue. Conversely, if there is an election for the House of Representatives only (as last happened in 1972), this would also involve the territory senators but not the state senators.


Brasília, the capital of Brazil, is set within the Federal District. Its territory includes several other cities, officially called administrative regions, since the Federal District cannot be divided into municipalities in the same manner as the states of Brazil.

The Federal District is a special unit of the federation, as it is not organized the same manner as a municipality, does not possess the same autonomy as a state (but is ranked among them) and is closely related to the central power.

The District Governor is elected directly for a 4-year term. Local laws are issued by a legislative chamber also elected by the local population. Judiciary affairs are carried out by the Union, instead of being appointed by the governor as in the other states of Brazil. The Federal District has the status of a federal state in many aspects. It has representatives both in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of congress) and in the Federal Senate (upper house of congress).

The Brazilian federal government was transferred to the current Federal District, separate from the state of Goiás and the border with the state of Minas Gerais on April 21, 1960, when the planned city of Brasília was inaugurated. Before the transfer, the Brazilian capital was the city of Rio de Janeiro. After the transfer, the territory where the former Federal District was located became the state of Guanabara, where the city of Rio de Janeiro was included, this state that existed from 1960 to 1975, when the state of Guanabara was merged with the state of Rio de Janeiro.


In Colombia the Capital District, containing the city of Bogotá was created as Special District in 1955 by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The district is made up by 20 localities.

Dominican Republic[edit]

In Dominican Republic the National District, containing the city of Santo Domingo de Guzman was created as a special district in 1922.


The National Capital Territory of Delhi is a special union territory of India. The territory encompasses three statutory towns: New Delhi (the capital of India), Delhi and Delhi Cantonment, along with 59 census towns and 165 villages.The NCT was set up as a federally administered Union Territory on 11 November 1956. In December 1991, the NCT was given a legislative assembly headed by a Chief Minister. The territory is not classified as a true union territory, though the central government does have limited control over the functioning of the territory much like other union territories.The NCT is unique in India in that the municipal control is handled by a locally elected government, major areas such as the police, and administration are handled by the central government.


In Indonesia, the national capital Jakarta is within the Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta (Jakarta Capital Special Region). Jakarta is considered one of Indonesia's provinces, therefore Jakarta is headed by a governor and not a mayor. However, Jakarta is divided into 5 smaller "administrative cities" (kota administrasi) and one "administrative regency" (kabupaten administrasi). The administration-cities are Central, North, East, West, and South Jakarta. The Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands) administration-regency is also included in the formal definition of Jakarta. All of these sub-units have its own degree of autonomy. Mayors of the five administration-cities and the regent of Kepulauan Seribu administration-regency are not elected, but directly appointed by the Governor and members of the Provincial Parliament of Jakarta. Furthermore, these sub-units do not have local parliament as opposed to other cities or regencies in Indonesia.


Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is contained within a special capital district.


As per Article 154 of the Federal Constitution, the national capital of Malaysia was set in Kuala Lumpur, then part of the state of Selangor. In Malaysia, the national capital of Kuala Lumpur lies within the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur (since 1974) while the federal government administrative centre of Putrajaya, 40 km (25 mi) to the south of Kuala Lumpur, lies within the Federal Territory of Putrajaya (since 2001). Both federal territories are enclaves within the state of Selangor.


Bamako, the capital of Mali, is contained within the Bamako Capital District.


The Federal District since 1824 is a federal district serving as the capital of Mexico, Mexico City and which is administered by the Mexican Federal Government. The Federal District encompasses the historical center of Mexico City, but is much larger than the historical municipality of Mexico City abolished in 1928. The urbanized area of Mexico City covers only the north of the Federal District, while the south of the Federal District is made up of rural areas and mountains. Although the Federal District is not a municipality or state. The name "Ciudad de México" is used by Mexican authorities as a synonym for the "Distrito Federal". Mexico City as a municipality was abolished in 1928, and the name "Mexico City" can now refer to two things.

This is actually a fairly recent reform (dating from 1993) of Article 44 of the Constitution, and it was aimed at ending two centuries of discussions (and occasional problems on jurisdiction) about whether one concept engulfed the other or even if one of the two entities really had any legal existence in lieu of the other. The complete text of the aforementioned reform also states that Mexico City is the seat of the Powers of the Union (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and capital of the United Mexican States.


Niger's capital, Niamey, comprises a capital district of Niger. It is surrounded by the Tillabéri Department.


Nigeria's capital Abuja is located in the Federal Capital Territory. The Territory was established in 1976, and the capital was formally moved from Lagos (the historic capital) in 1991.

North Korea[edit]

North Korea's capital city, Pyongyang, while traditionally located within South P'yŏng-an Province, is currently seen as a "directly governed city" (Chikalshi 직할시). For a time, P'yŏng-yang was considered a "special city" (T'ŭkpyŏlshi 특별시), to make it equivalent to its South Korean counterpart, Seoul.


Oslo does not belong to any county of Norway. The counties of Norway have two ways of management. The county councils are elected by the people and are responsible for example for health care, but Oslo has no county council, instead the city handles such tasks. The other way is the governor, a national representative in the counties. The governor of Akershus is responsible also for Oslo.


The capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, is a planned city within the Islamabad Capital Territory, which was created in 1960 out of the Punjab Province. The Territory elects representatives to both houses of the legislature. Before Islamabad was made the capital, Karachi was located in the Federal Capital Territory, which later reverted to the Sindh Province.

Papua New Guinea[edit]

Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea has been contained within the National Capital District of Papua New Guinea since the country achieved independence in 1975.


Lima, the nation's capital, is contained entirely within Lima Province, the only province in the country not belonging to any of the twenty-five regions. It is surrounded by the Lima Region on all sides but west.


The National Capital Region of the Philippines is Metro Manila, the country's seat of government containing Manila, the country's capital. Created in 1975 out of four cities and twelve municipalities of the province of Rizal and one municipality of the province of Bulacan, the region is administered by seventeen separately elected mayors and their councils which are coordinated by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, a national government agency headed by a chairperson directly appointed by the Philippine President. Quezon City, the country's former capital from 1948 to 1976, is also located within this region.

South Korea[edit]

South Korea's capital city, Seoul, while traditionally located within Gyeonggi Province, is currently seen as a "special city" (Teukbyeolsi/T'ŭkpyŏlshi 특별시). Seoul's mayor is seen as the equivalent of any provincial governor.


Historically, until 1967, Stockholm did not belong to any county of Sweden. Instead, there was an Governor that had the normal responsibilities of the County Administrative Boards and its managers, the governors. This did not mean there was a large practical difference. There was no County Council (which is elected by the people and is responsible for example for health care); instead, the Stockholm city handled such tasks.

Taiwan (Republic of China)[edit]

Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China (colloquially known as Taiwan), is a special municipality (Chinese: 直轄市; pinyin: zhíxiáshì).

United States[edit]

As provided by Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, the seat of the United States government is a federal district known as the District of Columbia. When created in 1790, the District comprised 100 square miles (260 km2) of land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia. Columbia was a poetic name for the United States used at the time.

The City of Washington was built in the center of the District, but other towns were also located in the territory such as Georgetown and Alexandria. The United States Congress returned the Virginia portion of the District back to that state in 1846. The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 revoked the charters of the individual cities of Washington and Georgetown, and instead created a single government for the whole District of Columbia. The City of Washington no longer exists; however, the name continues in use and the District is often referred to as just Washington, D.C. Georgetown now exists as a historic district within the District of Columbia.

Since the Home Rule Act of 1973, the District of Columbia has been run by an elected mayor and district council. Congress retains ultimate authority over the District and has the right to review the local budget and taxes, overturn laws passed by the district council, and terminate home rule. District residents pay federal taxes and are represented by a single, non-voting member in the United States House of Representatives.

Because of the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution, the people of the District of Columbia are allowed to vote for President of the United States. The District is allotted three electoral votes, equal to that of the least populous state.


The Capital District has the capital of Venezuela, Caracas.

See also[edit]