Head of government
Learn more about Head of government
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- This article focuses on the cases where the Head of Government is a separate office from the Head of State.
The Head of Government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the Head of Government is often styled Prime Minister, Premier, etc. In presidential or imperial systems, the Head of Government may be the same person as the Head of State, who is often titled President (of the republic) or a Monarch.
In semi-presidential systems, the Head of Government may answer to both the Head of State and the legislative power (such as parliament). An example is the French Fifth Republic (1958-present), where the Président de la République appoints a Prime Minister but must choose someone who can get government business through, and has the support of, the National Assembly. When the opposition controls the National Assembly (and thus government funding and most legislation), the President is in effect forced to choose a Prime Minister from the opposition; in such cases, known as cohabitation, the government controls internal state policy, with the President restricted largely to foreign affairs.
 Types and titles of Heads of Government
The most common title for a Head of Government is "Prime Minister." This is used as a formal title in many states, but also informally as a generic term to describe whichever office is formally the first amongst the executive "ministers" of a Head of State. Minister — from the Latin for servants or subordinates (i.e. servant or subordinate to the Head of State) — is a common title for members of a government (but many other titles are in use, e.g. secretary (of state)).
Formally the "Head of State" can also personally be Head of Government (ex officio or by ad hoc cumulation such as an absolute monarch nominating himself) but otherwise has formal precedence over the Head of Government and other ministers, whether he is their actual political superior (Absolute Monarch, Executive President) or rather theoretical or ceremonial in character. Various constitutions use different titles, and even the same title can have various political meanings depending on the constitution and political system of the state in question.
 As political chief
In addition to Prime Minister, titles used for the democratic model, where there is an elected legislative body holding the Head of Government to account, include the following:
Some of these titles relate to governments below the national level (e.g. states or provinces)
 Alternate English terms & renderings
- Chief Minister
- First Minister
- Head of the Government
- Premier, from French Premier ministre
- President of the Cabinet
- President of the Council of Ministers
- President of the Council of State
- President of the Executive Council
- Chairman of the Executive Council
- President of the Government
- State President
 Equivalent titles in other languages
- Bundeskanzler (Federal) Chancellor (German)
- In federal Malaysia the Heads of government of the constituent states are called in the Malay language either Ketua Menteri "Chief Minister" in the Malaysian states without a monarchy (Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak), or Menteri Besar "Great Minister" in the sultanates and other monarchic states.
- Lehendakari (Basque Country)
- Pääministeri (Finnish)
- Statsminister (Scandinavian)
- Taoiseach (Irish)
 Under a dominant Head of State
In a broader sense, "Prime Minister" can be used loosely to refer to various comparable positions under a Head of State that is an absolute monarch (especially is the case of ancient or feudal eras, so the term "Prime Minister" in this case could be considered an anachronism). In this case, the "Prime Minister" serves at the pleasure of the Monarch and holds no more power than the Monarch allows. In some cases a disgraced Head of Government has even been executed for his failure. Some such titles are:
- Ministro e Secretário de Estado dos Negócios do Reino (Brazil); later from 12 October 1822, Ministro e Secretário de Estado dos Negócios do Império
- Wasir or Grand Vizier
 Under a weak Head of State
In some cases, the Head of State is a figurehead whilst the Head of the Government leads the ruling party. In some cases a Head of Government may even pass on the title in hereditary fashion. Such titles include the following:
- Mayor of the Palace of the Merovingian kingdoms
- Nawab wasir of the Mughal Empire (also governor of Awadh)
- Peshwa of Satara and the Maratha empire
- Shogun in the empire of Japan
- Sultan in the original case of the Seljuk Turks who made the Caliphs of Baghdad their puppets; later both styles were often used for absolute rulers in Nepal
 Head of State as Head of Government
In some models the Head of State and Head of Government are one and the same. These include:
- (Executive) President
- Absolutist Monarch reigning and ruling without a Prime minister (or nominating himself)
- Chief Magistrate
- Führer - model as used in Nazi Germany (but not always).
An alternative formula is a single chief political body (e.g. presidium) which collectively leads the government and provides (e.g. by turns) the ceremonial Head of State See Head of State for further explanation of these cases.
 Parliamentary Heads of Government
In parliamentary systems, government functions along the following lines:
- The Head of Government — usually the leader of the majority party or coalition — forms the government, which is answerable to parliament;
- Full answerability of government to parliament is achieved through
- The ability of parliament to pass a vote of no confidence.
- The ability to vote down legislative proposals of the government.
- Control over or ability to vote down fiscal measures and the 'budget' (or 'supply'); a government is powerless without control of the state finances. In a bicameral system, it is often the so-called lower house, e.g. the British House of Commons that exercises the major elements of control and oversight; in some others, e.g. Australia and Italy, the government is constitutionally or by convention answerable to both chambers/Houses of Parliament.
All of these requirements directly impact the Head of Government's role. Consequently, they often play a 'day to day' role in parliament, answering questions and defending the government on the 'floor of the House', while in semi-presidential systems they may not be required to play as much of a role in the functioning of parliament.
In many countries, the Head of Government is commissioned by the Head of State to form a government on the basis of the strength of party support in the lower house. In other states the Head of Government is directly elected by parliament. Many parliamentary systems require ministers to serve in parliament, while others ban ministers from sitting in parliament; they must resign on becoming ministers.
Heads of Government are typically removed from power in a parliamentary system by
- Resignation, following:
- Defeat in a general election.
- Defeat in a leadership vote at their party caucus, to be replaced by another member of the same party.
- Defeat in a parliamentary vote on a major issue, e.g. loss of supply, loss of confidence. (In such cases, a Head of Government may seek a parliamentary dissolution from the Head of State and attempt to regain support by popular vote).
- Dismissal — some constitutions allow a Head of State (or his designated representative, as is the case in Commonwealth countries) to dismiss a Head of Government, though its use can be controversial, as occurred in 1975 when then Australian Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the Australian Constitutional Crisis.
- Death — in this case, the deputy Head of Government typically acts as the Head of Government until a new one is appointed.
 First among equals or dominating the cabinet?
Constitutions differ in the range and scope of powers granted to the Head of Government. Some older constitutions (for example, Australia's 1900 text, and Belgium's 1830 text) do not mention the office of Prime Minister at all, the office becoming a de facto reality without formal constitutional status. Some constitutions make a Prime Minister primus inter pares (first among equals) and that remains the practical reality in places like Finland and Belgium. Other states however, make their Prime Minister a central and dominant figure within the cabinet system; Ireland's Taoiseach, for example, alone can decide when to seek a parliamentary dissolution, in contrast to other countries where this is a cabinet decision.
It is alleged that the increased personalisation of leadership in a number of states has led to Prime Ministers becoming themselves "semi-presidential" figures, due in part to: media coverage of politics that focuses on the leader and his or her mandate, rather than on parliament; and to the increasing centralisation of power in the hands of the Prime Minister. Such allegations have been made against two recent British Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. They were also made against Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Chancellor of West Germany (later all of Germany), Helmut Kohl.
 Official residence
The Head of Government is often provided with an official residence, in the same way as Heads of State often are.
Well-known official residences of heads of government include:
- 10 Downing Street in London — Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (who also has a country residence Chequers)
- Catshuis — Minister-president of The Netherlands
- 24 Sussex Drive in the federal capital Ottawa — Prime Minister of Canada
- Kantei in Tokyo — Prime Minister of Japan
- Kirribilli House in Sydney; and The Lodge in Canberra — Prime Minister of Australia
- The Blue House, or Cheong Wa Dae; Residence and offices of the South Korean President.
- Hôtel Matignon, Paris— French Prime Minister (a grand palace is called a hôtel in French)
- 'the' Lambermont (actually the name of the street), Brussels — federal Prime Minister of Belgium (a project to move to a grander palace was abandoned after public protests)
- Palacio de la Moncloa — President of the Council of Ministers in Madrid, Spain
- Premier House in Wellington — Prime Minister of New Zealand
- Sager House in Stockholm — Prime Minister of Sweden
See official residence article for a fuller list.
The name of the residence is often used as a metonym or alternate title for 'the government' when the office is politically the highest, e.g. "10 Downing Street" would be used as an alternative form of "the British government".
Similarly the Heads of Government of (con)federal entities below the level of the sovereign state (often without an actual Head of State, at least under international law) may also be given an official residence. This is sometimes used as an opportunity by provincial/regional governments to display aspirations of statehood, e.g.:
- In Belgium, the Minister-president of the majority Dutch-speaking Flemish community region in the north has a residence: the Hotel Errera (in Brussels) and the Minister-president of the Walloon region also has a residence: the Élysette (a diminutive in French of the Élysée, the French presidential palace) in Namur.
However, Heads of Governments' residences are usually far less grand than those of a Head of State (even a merely ceremonial one), unless they combine both roles, as for example:
- The White House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), Washington, D.C. — President of the United States of America)
Even the formal representative of the Head of State, such as a Governor-General, may well be housed in a grander palace-type residence, often with such names as Government House.
 Sources and references
- Jean Blondel & Ferdinand Muller-Rommel Cabinets in Western Europe (ISBN 0-333-46209-2)
- WorldStatesmen (click on each country)