"The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good."
- Senator Palpatine
The Galactic Republic was the name of the interplanetary government used in the fictional Star Wars universe prior to the establishment of the Galactic Empire. It was benevolent, though ineffectual, democractic government tied up in layers of bureaucracy.
The Republic, as it was commonly known, had a highly democratic government that was able to sustain itself for over twenty-five thousand years (according to the Expanded Universe). It is said that its complete history would "fill a thousand libraries."
The Republic was made up of about a million worlds. The Clone Wars, which occurred from 22 BBY to circa 19 BBY, was the first full-scale war since the Republic formation.
This has caused some confusion, as the Expanded Universe mentions there were other wars throughout the Republic's history such as the Hundred-Year Darkness (7,000 BBY), The Great Hyperspace War (5,000 BBY) and The Great Sith War (4,000 BBY). This seeming contradiction may arise from the fact that the final confrontation with the Sith on Ruusan (1,000 BBY) could have devastated the galaxy to such an extent that the Republic had to be rebuilt from the ground-up. See the Ruusan Reformation for more information.
If this is true, it suggests that later political figures would often use this date when referring to the Republic's "founding", hence the belief that there had been no "full-scale" wars since "the foundation of the Republic". Minor conflicts, such as The Stark Hyperspace War (44 BBY), would not be considered "full-scale".
The Galactic Senate
Galactic Senate building.
The Republic began as a mutual protection and economic alliance among a number of planets in the galactic core. Each member state (system governments) returned a representative (a senator) to a central legislative body (the senate). Senators were the ambassadors of their homeworld, and member worlds were able to maintain their government and society in accordance with local belifes, customs, and traditions. There was a wide varity of different local governments along the political spectrum: from monarchies to republics to hive-like communes. In some systems the senator was elected to that post, in others the world government appointed the senator. Naboo's monarch appointed their senator, while the Alderaan Council of Elders elected their senator out of their own ranks (usually the heir to the Royal House of Organa, as the heir was also the leader of the council).
When the Republic's power and influence expanded, many new areas of the galaxy were incorporated into the Republic. A reorganization of Senatorial representation occurred 1,000 bby during the Ruusan Reformation. The most common organization for these new territories was to group regions into Sectors of about 50 inhabited worlds.Each sector was represented by a Senatorial Delegation. When the number of sectors became too large, sectors were organized into roughly a thousand regions, each represented by one delegation to the Senate.
The Senate served as the governing body of the Galactic Republic, while the Jedi Order served as its defenders. Soon thereafter, the Senate, and therefore the seat of government, was established on the planet Coruscant, coordinates 0-0-0 in the standard galactic coordinate system, signifying its central location in the galaxy.
The Senate was an enormous building containing many floating platforms, each of which contained several senators. Each platform in the senate represents a "sector" of the galaxy, with one senator from each planet in that sector. Some platforms represented individual worlds, others the special interest guilds such as the Trade Federation. Along with the senators, the leaders of the individual member planets apparently also had the power to vote in the Senate and introduce legislation.
The members of the Senate would then elect a Chancellor from amongst their ranks who would serve as the Republic's head of government (there seems to be no head of state) and chief diplomat. Based on the films, we can see that the Senate follows pseudo-parliamentary rules. In Episode One, Chancellor Finis Valorum is forced out of office by the Senate in a Motion of No Confidence, introduced by Queen Amidala of Naboo.
Senators received one vote in all matters, procedural and substantive. The Chancellor was elected from within the Senate. The assembly was in turn divided into individual committees, each specializing in specific fields of government administration, and which were responsible for creating legislation to be reviewed by the full assembly.
Although legislation passed by the Senate was binding to all member worlds, most of the everyday legislation followed by citizens of the Republic was created at the planetary, sector, or regional level. Therefore, the main functions of the Senate were to mediate disputes between members, provide for the common defense, and regulate inter-system trade. The Jedi, who answered to the Chancellor, became traveling representatives of the Senate responsible not only for protecting the Republic and its citizens, but also to serve as representatives of the Republic and as mediators for individual disputes.
The Republic's greatest failing was its lack of formal organization. Much of its operation was based on non-binding constitutional conventions, which were often ignored and undermined by corrupt and power-hungry politicians. Coalition governments were common with special interest defining the legislative agenda.
However, the waning years of the Republic were a time of corruption and great social injustice. The Senate became divided between those who genuinely wished to uphold the values and ideals of the Republic and those who wished to further their own goals. After a series of weak and ineffectual Chancellors and a crisis involving the invasion of the planet Naboo by the Trade Federation over a tariff passed in the Senate, the time had come for strong leadership to end the corruption.
The Republic Military
For most of its history, the Republic did not hold an army since the Battle of Ruusan, except for ceremonial purposes. This was to display the Republic's peaceful ideals, as the Republic used Jedi Knights as "keepers of the peace."
Several trade organisations, such as the Trade Federation and Commerce Guild, kept armies of droids in order to protect their profits, but they often abused this power, such as in the Battle of Naboo. Individual sectors also maintained their own security forces, such as Naboo Security Force or CorSec from Corellia, and these were sometimes used to combat small threats. However there was no centralized command, and the members of the Republic were loathe to change this.
The Clone Wars changed all this. The Republic had no standing military to combat the Confederacy of Independent Systems and a Military Creation Act was proposed, which was violently opposed by many of the Republic's pacifist leaders, such as Padmé Amidala of Naboo, who feared the possibility of going to war. Supporties of the Military Creation Act were Orn Free Taa of Ryloth and Ask Aak of Malastare.
However, a clone army had already been created in secret on the planet Kamino ten years earlier. When it became clear the Confederacy had no intention of negotiating with the Republic, the Republic adopted this army, along with AT-TE walkers, gunships and other military vehicles.
The End of Democracy
By the time of The Phantom Menace, the Republic was incredibly corrupt. Senator Palpatine of Naboo became the Chancellor in 32 BBY. Traditionally, the Chancellor could only have two 4-year terms, but Palpatine stayed in office much longer.
The Separatist Crisis occurred when several of the Republic's member Star Systems and organizations united in order to separate from the Republic. This unified organization became known as the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Tensions between the Republic and the Separatists eventually broke, and the Clone Wars began as chronicled in Attack of the Clones.
Chancellor Palpatine was granted emergency powers in a motion led by Representative Binks to deal with the Confederacy and eventually declared himself Emperor of the galaxy at the end of the Clone Wars. After millennia the Republic had ceased to exist.
Decades later, shortly before the Battle of Yavin, Palpatine dispersed the Imperial Senate and the last remnants of the Galactic Republic were swept away.
After the fall of the Empire and Galactic Civil War, the Galactic Republic was re-established as the New Republic. Following the establishment of the New Republic, the Galactic Republic was often referred to as the Old Republic.