Politics and government in the World of Avatar vary significantly between the different nations. There are five basic types of political systems, each of which has a distinctive character that corresponds with the element or ideology of its respective nation. The Air Nomads had a theocracy led by four councils of monks or nuns; the Water Tribe has a tribal system which was led by two separate chiefdoms in the North and South Poles until the conclusion of the Hundred Year War; the Earth Kingdom has a confederate monarchy led by an earth monarch; the Fire Nation has an absolute monarchy led by the Fire Lord; and the United Republic of Nations has a democracy led by an elected president.
The Avatar acts independently of all states as a means of maintaining peace and order among the nations and also serves as a mediator between the mortal and Spirit World. As such, they are not bound to the leader and authority of their birth nation and several have even defied them when necessary.
- Main article: Air Nomads
Government system: Unitary directorial ecclesiocracy
Head of state and government: Four Councils of Elders
Most recent known head: Four Councils of Elders
Territorial divisions: Four air temples
Heads of territorial divisions: Head monks, abbots (Northern and Southern Air Temple) and mothers superior (Eastern and Western Air Temple)
Capital: No overall capital
The Air Nomads had no overall government that made unified decisions. Instead, there were four Councils of Elders that presided over each of the four temples. These assemblies consisted of wise and experienced airbending masters, either entirely monks or nuns, that made decisions regarding the temple and its people. However, in comparison to the political systems of the other nations, the Council of Elders had little real authority, and only served as supervisors or managers. The Southern Air Temple had five monks on its Council of Elders, including High Monk Pasang, Tashi, and Gyatso. Sister Iio was the Mother Superior and thus the head of the council in the Eastern Air Temple. In the advent of the Hundred Year War, the temples' councils were killed along with the rest of the nation.
Prior to their extermination, the Air Nomads maintained good relations with the other nations, as their temples were in close proximity to or within their borders and Air Nomads freely traveled the world without fear.
Government system: Unitary Pseudo-Ecclesiocracy
Head of state and government: No overall head of state; just certain respected individuals
Most recent known head: Tenzin
Territorial divisions: Five air temples
Heads of territorial divisions: Air Acolyte abbots (one for each temple)
Capital: No overall capital
To preserve the Air Nomad culture after the Hundred Year War, Aang founded the Air Acolytes, and over time, they grew to be the cultural successors of the Air Nomads, namely the Air Nation. Like the other nations, they too had a political representative on the United Republic Council. As the sole living airbending master and the son of Avatar Aang, Tenzin had a great amount of influence among the Air Acolytes and was held in high regard. Each air temple is administered by an abbot, but ultimately falls under the authority of the head of state.
With the return of airbending following Harmonic Convergence in 171 AG, Tenzin was seen as the figurehead of the new Air Nation, serving as its representative in global affairs.
The newly formed Air Nation generally had the same positive relations with the rest of the world as it's predecessors had, though it ran afoul of the Earth Kingdom as a result of helping numerous forcibly conscripted airbenders escape from Earth Queen Hou-Ting's custody and was also treated as an enemy by the successor regime of the Earth Empire, helping to fight off its forces when they invaded the United Republic of Nations.
- Main article: Water Tribe
Government system: Tribal chiefdom
Head of state: Tribal chief, currently no overall chief
Territorial divisions: Three independent tribes
Capital: No overall capital
The Water Tribe originally did not have an overall leader. After the Hundred Year War, both its main divisions fell under the rule of one chief. Following a civil war, the Southern Water Tribe became independent and is now ruled by its own chief.
Northern Water Tribe
- Main article: Northern Water Tribe
Politics in the Northern Water Tribe are more complicated than in its sister tribe in the South Pole. There is one all-powerful leader, but there is a small council that advises him, most recently including the tribe's greatest waterbending master, Pakku. Politics can also be personal. For example, marrying the chief's daughter, the Tribal Princess, can be a significant step in a political career.
Southern Water Tribe
- Main article: Southern Water Tribe
Government system: Federal Parliamentary Elected Chiefdom
Head of state: Chief
Most recent known head: Tonraq
Head of government: Chairman of the Council of Chieftains and Elders
Capital: Harbor City
Decisions in the Southern Water Tribe are made exclusively by the current chief, and politics appear to be extremely simple, with only one person in power and all others completely loyal to that person. Unlike in the Northern Water Tribe, the chief's children, such as Katara and Sokka, are not viewed as royalty. Korra, by virtue of her paternal grandfather and uncle being the former chief of the North is technically royalty, but still treated as a regular citizen.
In recent years, its structure became more readily defined, with its Council of Chieftains and Elders handling day-to-day affairs of state and possessing its own judicial system. Due to the South's independence from the North in 171 AG, the council now elects their own chief into office.
Foggy Swamp Tribe
- Main article: Foggy Swamp Tribe
Little is known about the politics of the Foggy Swamp Water Tribe. However, Huu seemed to have some kind of spiritual authority, although his relationship with the rest of the tribe is fairly informal.
- Main article: Earth Kingdom
Government system: Confederate Constitutional Monarchy
Head of state: Earth monarch
Most recent known head of state: Wu
Head of government: Grand Secretariat
Most recent known head of government: Gun
Territorial divisions: Various autonomous states, regions and provinces
Heads of territorial divisions: Kings, governors, mayors
Capital: Ba Sing Se
Though the ruler of Ba Sing Se, titled as the Earth King or Queen, is the official overall leader of the Earth Kingdom, the country functions as a sort of confederation, with individual states, provinces, and cities given a great deal of autonomy. Outside of the cities, the central government has little influence. Furthermore, the Earth Kingdom has no unified system of laws, with each region having its own legal code. These territories do, however, provide support and troops to the Earth King whenever necessary and the military functions as a unified body.
In 174 AG, after Kuvira's defeat at Republic City, King Wu decided he would abolish the monarchy in favor of independent states with a democratically elected government akin to the political situation of the United Republic of Nations.
Ba Sing Se
- Main article: Ba Sing Se
Executive power of the government of Ba Sing Se and, by extension, the entire Earth Kingdom is vested to the earth monarch. It should be noted that the day-to-day affairs of the city are managed by the Grand Secretariat, who answers only to the monarch.
The power of the Earth Monarch was, until the reign of the 46th Earth King, largely absolute. This changed when both a war of conquest and a peasant uprising proved his authority less than legitimate, and Avatar Kyoshi intimidated him into accepting a more reduced role. As such, the monarchy became more constitutional and large amounts of power were ceded to the bureaucrats, with the monarch becoming more of a figurehead. As successive monarchs delegated more and more power to their underlings in favor of pursuing personal leisure and pleasures, the bureaucracy became highly corrupt and self-serving. Long Feng, Grand Secretariat to Earth King Kuei, used the Dai Li secret police as his own personal enforcers, making sure things in Ba Sing Se remained under his control.
After Long Feng's corruption was revealed, Earth King Kuei had him arrested and decided to take a more active role in ruling his kingdom, revising many policies that attempted to ensure power was more evenly distributed. The ascension of his daughter, Hou-Ting, to the throne marked a sharp downward shift in this regard, however. A petty and materialistic woman, Hou-Ting reversed many of her father's policies and decisions to make herself an absolute monarch, stripping the bureaucrats of virtually all power and revising it to herself, though she preferred to use her royal authority for personal pleasures rather than meaningfully ruling her lands. This mismanagement meant that her assassination at the hands of the Red Lotus created a massive power vacuum, with nobody able to effectively step in and maintain order. As such, Ba Sing Se and most of the Earth Kingdom were left to descend into anarchy and chaos.
Title of leader Governor of Gaoling
Most recent known leader: Office vacant
The State of Gaoling is a state in the Earth Kingdom preparing for a transition to democracy. Historically, the area was ruled by the noble Beifong family. Its capital is Gaoling. The candidates in the elections are the traditionalist bureaucrats Ling and Bak, the Earth Empire loyalist Guan, and the earthbending master Toph Beifong. However, the fairness of the elections has been jeopardized following Doctor Sheng's brainwashing of Gaoling's citizens. King Wu planned to cancel the elections but was captured by Guan's army, who prepared to brainwash him.
- Main article: Omashu
Omashu, though part of the Earth Kingdom and therefore answerable to the Earth King in Ba Sing Se, has its own king and is relatively autonomous of the capital.
- Main article: Zaofu
Title of leader: Matriarch
Most recent known leader: Suyin Beifong
Position: Autonomous city-state
Zaofu was founded and built by Suyin Beifong, head of the Metal Clan and daughter of the famous Toph Beifong. Like Omashu, it is part of the Earth Kingdom while staying relatively autonomous of the capital. In 174 AG, it was briefly annexed to the Earth Empire by Kuvira, who assumed total control over the city.
Title of leader: Governor, village leaders.
Most recent known leader: Oyaji
Position: Autonomous island state.
Kyoshi Island was once a peninsula whose largest settlement was Yokoya, and was largely impoverished with most eking out a living as farmers and sailors. Possessing little economic and strategic importance meant that it was ignored by the official government and left largely to its own devices. However, it gained notoriety when Avatar Kyoshi was discovered there, and she made it her adopted home. When the peninsula was directly threatened by Chin the Conqueror, Kyoshi responded by using the power of the Avatar State to separate the peninsula from the mainland and push it out to sea as an island, also indirectly killing Chin in the process. As a result of this act, the new island was named Kyoshi Island in her honor and the Avatar herself became its political governor, a position she ceded to her daughter Koko.
Though Kyoshi Island is ruled by a governor, each village maintains its own leader who acts as an authority in local politics, settling legal disputes and overseeing the local chapters of the Kyoshi Warriors who serve as the island's police and security forces. Though the governor swears fealty to the central government of Ba Sing Se, it is largely lip service and the island is mostly autonomous.
Government system: Military dictatorship (formerly)
Head of state: Commander (formerly)
Most recent known head: Kuvira (formerly, only holder of office)
Heads of territorial divisions: Officers of the Earth Empire military (formerly, disputed)
Capital: Ba Sing Se (formerly), Zaofu (main base of operations, formerly)
After Earth Queen Hou-Ting was assassinated by the Red Lotus, the Earth Kingdom was plunged into total anarchy as the dis-empowered central government collapsed. With the bureaucracy in tatters and the Avatar out of commission as a result of being near-fatally poisoned by the Red Lotus, the Earth Kingdom was in need of a powerful and well-respected figure to step in and restore order. The world's leaders approached Suyin Beifong with this proposal in mind, but she declined as she felt it would be forcibly implanting her own ideals on the Earth Kingdom. Kuvira, her protege and guard captain, protested as it could be an excellent way for her to share Zaofu's technological advancement with the rest of the Kingdom as well as to bring back order, but Suyin was unconvinced. Disillusioned with her leader and seeking to help her troubled nation, Kuvira left Zaofu with Suyin's eldest son, Baatar Jr., as well as many of the guards and several wealthy citizens to do the job herself. Kuvira reached Ba Sing Se and successfully brought it to heel, following which she took command of the remaining Earth Kingdom military and, with the blessing of the world leaders, set about restoring order to the rest of the nation. Over a period of three years, Kuvira managed to stabilize the Earth Kingdom and united many of its states under her own banner, earning her the title of Great Uniter, with the stipulation that she would transfer power back to the hands of the Earth Monarchy once it was complete. However, Kuvira soon began to harbor aspirations and ambitions of her own, and saw the monarchy as outdated and having failed the nation in the past. As such, she declared the Earth Kingdom over and dissolved it in favor of a new "Earth Empire", which she intended to lead herself. This action was met with resistance from the other nations, who refused to recognize her or her regime and declared her a usurper of the monarchy, which Kuvira ignored.
The Earth Empire consisted of nearly all previous Earth Kingdom territories that had joined Kuvira, either willingly or under threat of force. Many of these regions had dissolved into chaos after the death of Hou-Ting and were grateful to Kuvira for helping them, whilst others were either largely unaffected or distrusted her intentions and resisted her, such as the State of Yi. Over time, however, they all capitulated and joined her or were taken by force, including her home state of Zaofu. Kuvira enacted very strong rules within her territories, forcing people to declare open and eternal loyalty to her in exchange for protection, with any dissenters rounded up and locked away. Kuvira also engaged in ethnic cleansing of her occupied territories, ordering all citizens of Fire Nation and Water Tribe ethnicity to be sent to reeducation camps. Leaders of these states either fell in line or were supplanted by Kuvira's own underlings, all of whom answered directly to her. Kuvira was appointed as the Earth Empire's sole ruler, with all power transferred to her, making her a military dictator.
The Earth Empire maintained few diplomatic relations with the other nations, none of whom recognised Kuvira's new position, but was not openly hostile to them as it was wary of provoking a sudden war. Citizens of foreign origin found within Earth Empire borders were arrested, such as the Air Nation child Ikki, though she escaped with her siblings' help. Despite being wary of provoking the other nations, however, Kuvira planned and enacted an invasion of the United Republic of Nations, falsely declaring it as land stolen from the Earth Empire. The United Republic, for it's part, sought assistance from the other nations in fortifying itself against Kuvira, with both the Air and Fire Nations agreeing to provide assistance in this regard. Though the United Forces were made to stand down and allow themselves to be turned over to Earth Empire custody when Kuvira invaded Republic City, a small resistance group of various people from the Air Nation, United Republic and former Earth Kingdom resisted her advance and managed to defeat her, bringing an end to the Earth Empire.
- Main article: Fire Nation
Government system: Autocratic Absolute Monarchy
Head of state and government: Fire Lord
Most recent known head: Izumi
Territorial divisions: Homeland (formerly including Fire Nation colonies)
Heads of territorial divisions: Governors  and mayors 
Capital: Fire Nation Capital
Centuries prior, the Fire Nation was formerly ruled by a council of Fire Sages until the Fire Lord broke from the council and established a monarchy. The Fire Lord's authority is considered absolute and maintains control over the military and domestic politics, assisted by a council of trusted advisors. Though the title is male-oriented, the position of Fire Lord itself is gender-neutral and females can inherit the crown without issue. The firstborn child is the Heir to the Fire Lord, usually referred to as the Crown Prince or the Crown Princess, though the firstborn can be passed over for inheritance at the discretion of the Fire Lord. The position is usually held for life, but incumbent Fire Lords can choose to step down and pass on the crown to their heirs, as Zuko did with his daughter Izumi in 167 AG.
The Fire Nation's relationship with the other nations prior to the Hundred Year War was apparently positive, as guests from the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom were invited to the wedding of Avatar Roku and Aang maintained a fond friendship with a Fire Nation boy named Kuzon. Over a hundred years of war, bloodshed and genocide resulted in the near-extinction of two cultures and citizens of the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom grew up hating the Fire Nation. Even long after the war's end, the memories of the conflict were still raw and painful, which some in the Fire Nation were conscious of. Fire Lord Izumi, for example, refused to agree to United Republic President Raiko's suggestion of a preemptive strike against Kuvira's Earth Empire, citing that the Fire Nation had spent too much of its history embroiled in conflict and she would not enter into another one unless there was no other choice. The blending of Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom citizens in the Fire Nation colonies gave rise to the United Republic, a society where people of all nations were welcome to live and thrive.
Sun Warrior Tribe
- Main article: Sun Warriors
The Sun Warriors have no affiliation with the other nations as their culture and people are believed to be extinct, and this ruse is maintained to ensure the protection of their treasures and revered masters. Despite their isolation, they were made aware of the Hundred Year War being perpetrated by the Fire Nation and were disgusted and furious, as the conflict had twisted firebending away from worship of the sun and also resulted in the near-extinction of the dragons.
United Republic of Nations
- Main article: United Republic of Nations
Government system: Unitary Presidential Republic (formerly Unitary Directorial Republic)
Head of state and government: President (formerly United Republic Council)
Most recent known head: Zhu Li Moon
Territorial divisions: Various states, regions and provinces
Capital: Republic City
The United Republic of Nations was formerly led by the United Republic Council, which was composed of one representative from each major nation, who represented the interest of their people. However, in the aftermath of the Anti-bending Revolution, it was decided that this political system was flawed because it did not sufficiently represent the interests of the majority. The United Republic Council was dissolved and an elected president was designated as the new head of state, thus making it the first and only democracy in the World of Avatar until King Wu's decision to dissolve the monarchy and enact a similar system to the United Republic.
The United Republic Council served as the primary executive, legislative and judicial administration, overseeing the city's governance and making important political decisions such as the formation of task forces and implementation of new laws and policies, which are passed by a majority opinion. They also acted as the primary authority in criminal trials such as that of Yakone, where they acted as both judge and jury. The council's membership is open to both benders and non-benders, as Sokka and an unnamed Air Acolyte both served as members during Yakone's trial, but the council during the time of the Equalist Uprising was composed entirely of benders, a fact that the Equalists used as justification of their statements that the government of the city did not fairly represent it's people.
The role of the President is large and varied, acting as the official head of state and representing the United Republic on the world stage. The President also serves as commander-in-chief of the United Forces, the Republic's military, and can deploy or stand them down as needed. The President is elected by popular vote and majority opinion, and previous or incumbent candidates can run for re-election, though it is unclear if there is a limit to how many times a person can run for office.
Though located on the western coast of the Earth Kingdom, the United Republic does not hold fealty to its central government or the earth monarch, serving instead as an independent and fully autonomous state. However, it's political legitimacy has been challenged on several occasions, with both Earth Queen Hou-Ting and Earth Empire dictator Kuvira declaring it stolen territory and the latter even attempting to forcibly annex it into her own regime. It generally maintains positive relations with the other nations, with the unofficial Air Nation capital of Air Temple Island resting within its borders, but did not get involved in the Water Tribe Civil War, declaring it an internal affair.