Prior to the 1960s, individual emirates lacked formal institutions of government. The British resident agent took care of foreign and defense affairs and intervened in internal tribal matters only to mediate. It was only in the 1970s that a formal governmental structure was established. When the federation was created in 1971, a provisional Constitution was approved, which was meant to be replaced by a formal Constitution five years later. However, the provisional Constitution was repeatedly renewed and has remained in force throughout the period of independence. In 1996, the term "interim" was removed, officially changing the document's status from de facto to permanent.
According to the Constitution, the highest government authority is vested in the Supreme Council, which consists of the rulers of the seven emirates. The president and the vice president are elected by the Supreme Council. The president in turn appoints the Council of Ministers, which exercises executive authority. A Federal National Council, consisting of 40 members appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates, acts as the legislature. This body reviews laws proposed by the Council of Ministers and can reject them or suggest amendments.
Under the present system, individual emirates retain a great degree of autonomy, and all powers not specifically reserved for the federal government belong to them. Each of these emirates has retained control over mineral rights, taxation, and police protection. In November 1976, the Supreme Council amended Article 143 of the provisional Constitution so that the right to control armed forces was placed exclusively in the hands of the federal government. This action represents an important step toward integration. Although there are no political parties in the UAE, secret political groups are known to exist.