Head of State

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For the comedy film of the same name, see Head of State (film).

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Image:Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.jpg
Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state for 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and the Bahamas, as well as crown colonies and overseas territories of the United Kingdom.

Head of state or chief of state is the generic term for the individual or collective office that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchic or republican nation-state, federation, commonwealth or any other political state. His or her role generally includes personifying the continuity and legitimacy of the state and exercising the political powers, functions and duties granted the head of state in the country's constitution.

Charles de Gaulle described the role he envisaged for the French president when he wrote the modern French constitution. He said the head of state should embody "the spirit of the nation" for the nation itself and the world: une certaine idée de la France (a certain idea about France). Today many countries expect their head of state to embody national values in a similar fashion.


[edit] Constitutional models

Different countries have different executive systems but in essence four major, generalizing categories can be distinguished:

  • the presidential (or imperial) system in which the head of state is also the head of government and actively exercises executive power
  • the semi-presidential system in which the head of state shares exercise of executive power with a head of government
  • the parliamentary system in which the head of state possesses theoretical executive power but the exercise of this power is delegated to a head of government, and
  • the non-executive Head of State system in which the head of state does not hold any executive power and mainly plays a symbolic role on behalf of the state.

[edit] Presidential system

Note: 'presidential' in this context does not automatically imply a president but any head of state – elected, hereditary, or dictatorial – who 'presides'. It is sometimes called the imperial model, without regard for the monarchic title emperor, rather referring to the luster.

Image:Washington (3).jpg
George Washington, the first president of the United States, set the precedent for an executive head of state in republican governments.

Some constitutions or fundamental laws provide for a head of state who is not just in theory but in practice chief executive, operating separately from, and independent from, the legislature. This system is sometimes known as a presidential system because the government is answerable solely and exclusively to a presiding, acting head of state, and is selected by and on occasion dismissed by the head of state without reference to the legislature. It is notable that some presidential systems, while not providing for collective executive answerability to the legislature, may require legislative approval for individuals prior to their assumption of cabinet office and empower the legislature to remove a president from office (for example, in the United States of America). In this case the debate centres on the suitability of the individual for office, not a judgement on them when appointed, and does not involve the power to reject or approve proposed cabinet members en bloc, so it is not answerability in the sense understood in a parliamentary system.

Some presidential systems may also include a prime minister but as with the other ministers they are responsible to the President, not the legislature. In many such instances the office is of minimal political importance, sometimes even held by some administrative technocrat rather than a politician. A prime minister in a presidential system lacks the constitutional and political dominance of a prime minister in a parliamentary system and is often seen as simply a politically junior figure who may run the mechanics of government while allowing the president to set the broad national agenda. One could say that, whereas in parliamentary systems a prime minister may be master of his or her party and the government, prime ministers in presidential systems are usually the servants, with the Head of State the master of the government who can employ or terminate anyone, including the prime minister, at will.

Presidential systems are a notable feature of constitutions in the Americas, including those of the United States, Brazil, and Mexico. Most presidents in such countries are selected by democratic means (popular direct or indirect election); however, like all other systems, the presidential model also encompasses people who become head of state by other means, notably through military dictatorship or coup d'état, as seen in South American, Middle Eastern, and other presidential regimes. Some of the characteristics of a presidential system (ie. a strong dominant political figure with an executive answerable to them, not the legislature) can also be found among absolute monarchies, parliamentary monarchies, and Communist regimes, but in most cases of dictatorship apply their stated Constitutional models in name only and not in political theory or practise.

In the 1870s in the United States, in the aftermath of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and his near-removal from office it was speculated that the United States, too, would move from a presidential system to a semi-presidential or even parliamentary one, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives becoming the real centre of government as a quasi-prime minister. This did not happen and the presidency, having been damaged by two late nineteenth century assassinations (Lincoln and McKinley) and one impeachment (Johnson), reasserted its political dominance by the early twentieth century through such figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

[edit] Semi-presidential systems

Image:Charles de Gaulle.jpg
President Charles de Gaulle was responsible for establishing the semi-presidential system of France.

Semi-presidential systems combine features of presidential and parliamentary systems, notably a requirement that the government be answerable to both the President and the legislature. The constitution of the Fifth French Republic provides for a prime minister who is chosen by the president but who nevertheless must be able to gain support in the National Assembly. Should a president be of one side of the political spectrum and the opposition be in control of the legislature, the president is usually obliged to select someone from the opposition to become prime minister, a process known as Cohabitation. President François Mitterrand, a Socialist, for example was forced to cohabit with the neo-Gaullist (right wing) Jacques Chirac, who became his prime minister from 1986 - 88.

In the French system, in the event of cohabitation, the president is often allowed to set the policy agenda in foreign affairs and the prime minister runs the domestic agenda.

Other countries evolve into something akin to a semi-presidential system or indeed a full presidential system. Weimar Germany, for example, in its constitution provided for a popularly elected president with theoretically dominant executive powers that were intended to be exercised only in emergencies and a cabinet appointed by him from the Reichstag which was expected in normal circumstances to be answerable to the Reichstag. Initially, the President was merely a symbolic figure with the Reichstag dominant.

However, persistent political instability, in which governments often lasted only a few months, led to a change in the power structure of the Republic, with the president's emergency powers called increasingly into use to prop up governments challenged by critical or even hostile Reichstag votes. By 1932, power had shifted to such an extent that the German President, Paul von Hindenburg, was able to dismiss a chancellor and select his own person for the job even though the outgoing chancellor possessed the confidence of the Reichstag while the new chancellor did not. Subsequently President von Hindenburg used his power to appoint Adolf Hitler as Reich chancellor without consulting the Reichstag.

[edit] Parliamentary system

In parliamentary systems the head of state may be merely the nominal chief executive officer of the state, possessing theoretical executive power (hence the description of the United Kingdom monarch's government as Her Majesty's Government, a term indicating that the government acts on her behalf and not parliament's). In reality however, due to a process of constitutional evolution, powers are usually exercised by a cabinet, presided over by a prime minister or President of the Government who is answerable to parliament. This answerability requires that someone be chosen from parliament who has parliament's support (or at least not parliament's opposition - a subtle but important difference). It also gives parliament the right to vote down the government, forcing it either to resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution. Governments are thus said to be responsible (or answerable) to parliament, with the government in turn accepting constitutional responsibility for offering constitutional Advice to the head of state.

In reality, numerous variants exist to the position of a head of state within a parliamentary system. The older the constitution, the more constitutional leeway may exist for a head of state to exercise greater powers over government, as many older parliamentary system constitutions in fact give heads of state powers and functions akin to presidential or semi-presidential systems, in some cases without containing reference to modern democratic principles of accountability to parliament or even to modern governmental offices. For example, the 1848 constitution of the Kingdom of Italy was sufficiently ambiguous and outdated by the 1920s to give King Victor Emmanuel III leeway to appoint Benito Mussolini to power in controversial circumstances.

Some Commonwealth parliamentary systems combine a body of written constitutional law, unwritten constitutional precedent, Orders-in-Council, letters patent, etc that may give a Head of State or their representative additional powers in unexpected circumstances (such as the dismissal of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.)

Other examples of heads of state in parliamentary systems using greater powers than usual, due either to ambiguous constitutions or unprecedented national emergencies, include the decision by King Léopold III of the Belgians to surrender on behalf of his state to the invading German army in 1940, against the will of his government. Judging that his responsibility to the nation by virtue of his coronation oath required him to act, he believed that his government's decision to fight rather than surrender was mistaken and would damage Belgium. (Leopold's decision proved highly controversial. After World War II, Belgium voted on whether to allow him back on the throne. It did so, but because of the ongoing controversy he ultimately abdicated.)

[edit] Single-party states

Since real political power belongs to the head of the sole legal party (often a communist party), in certain states under constitutions inspired by the former Soviet republics there was no formal office of head of state, but rather the head of the legislative 'soviet' branch of power was officially considered the head of state. In the Soviet Union this office had names Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council as well as Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in case of Soviet Russia (until 1922).

This may even lead to an institutional variability, as in North Korea where after the presidency of party leader Kim Il Sung the office was vacant for years, the late president being granted the posthumous title (akin some ancient far eastern traditions to give posthumous names and titles to royalty) of president 'in eternity' (while all real power, as party leader, itself not formally for 4 years, was inherited by his son Kim Jong Il, initially without any formal office) till it was formally replaced on 5 September 1998 for ceremonial purposes by the office of the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, while the party leader's post as Chairman of the National Defense Commission was simultaneously declared "the highest post of the state", not unlike Deng Xiaoping earlier in the PR of China.

[edit] Non-executive heads of state

Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, an example of a non-executive Head of State.

A final category of head of state which could be loosely called the non-executive head of state model also exists. Its holders are excluded completely from the executive: they do not possess even theoretical executive powers or any role, even formal, within the government. Hence their states' governments are not referred to by the traditional parliamentary model head of state styles of His/Her Majesty's Government or His/Her Excellency's Government. Within this general category, variants in terms of powers and functions may exist. The king of Sweden, since the passage of the modern Swedish constitution (the Instrument of Government) in the mid 1970s, no longer has any of the parliamentary system head of state functions that had previously belonged to Swedish kings but still receives formal cabinet briefings monthly in the Royal Palace. In contrast, the only contact the Irish president has with the Irish government is through a formal briefing session given by the Taoiseach (prime minister) to the President. However, he or she has no access to documentation and all access to ministers goes through the Department of An Taoiseach (prime minister's office).

Examples of this category, invariably dating from the twentieth century, include:

[edit] Complications with categorisation

While clear categories do exist, it is sometimes difficult to choose which category some individual heads of state belong to. Constitutional change in Liechtenstein in 2003 gave its head of state, the prince, unprecedented constitutional powers including a veto over legislation and power in theory to dismiss the cabinet. It could be argued that the strengthening of the prince's powers vis-a-vis the legislature has moved Liechtenstein into the semi-presidential category. Similarly the original powers given to the Greek president under the 1974 Hellenic Republic constitution moved Greece closer to the French semi-presidential model. And the theoretical power of the British monarch to dismiss his or her government at will would suggest that the United Kingdom should nominally belong to the semi-presidential category also. In reality, the category to which each head of state belongs is assessed not by theory but by practice. In practice no British monarch has forced a government from office since the early nineteenth century, while in reality the Greek Republic, even before the powers of the President of the Republic were curtailed in 1986, operated as a standard parliamentary system. Unless and until a Prince of Liechtenstein exercises the theoretical powers they now possess, the principality would still remain categorised as a parliamentary system.

[edit] Roles of the head of state

Often depending on which constitutional category (above) a head of state belongs to, they may have some or all of the roles listed below, and various other ones.

[edit] Symbolic role

As the above quote by Charles de Gaulle indicates, one of the most important roles of the modern Head of State is being a living national symbol of the nation.

In many countries, official portraits of the head of state can be found in government offices, courts of law, even airports, libraries, and other public buildings. The idea, sometimes regulated by law, is to use these portraits to make the public aware of the symbolic connection to the government, a practice that dates back to mediaeval times. Sometimes this practice is taken to excess, and the head of state begins to believe that he is the only symbol of the nation. A personality cult thus ensues, where the image of the head of state is the only visual representation of the country, surpassing other symbols such as the flag, constitution, founding fathers, etc. A modern champion in this field was Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Führer; of course such a political technique can also be used by leaders without the formal rank of head of state, even party - and other revolutionary leaders without formal state mandate. Other common iconic presences, especially of monarchs, are on coins, stamps, banknotes. More discreet variations see them represented by a mention and/or signature. Furthermore all kinds of things are called after heads of state, such as streets and squares, schools, charitable and other organisations; in monarchies there can even be a practice to attribute the adjective 'royal' on demand based on existence for a given number of years.

In general, the active duties amount to a ceremonial role. Thus in diplomatic affairs, heads of state are often the first person to greet an important foreign visitor. They may also assume a sort of informal "host" role during the VIP's visit, inviting the visitor to a state dinner at his or her mansion or palace, or some other equally hospitable affair.

At home, they are expected to render luster to various occasions by their presence, such as by attending artistic or sports performances or competitions, expositions, celebrations, military parades and remembrances, prominent funerals, visiting parts of the country, enterprises, care facilities (often in a theatrical honour box, on a platform, on the front row, at the honours table etc.), sometimes performing a symbolic act such as cutting a ribbon or pushing a button at an opening, christening something with champagne, laying the first stone, and so on. Some parts of national life receive their regular attention, often on an annual basis, or even in the form of official patronage.

As the potential for such invitations is enormous, such duties are often in part delegated: to such persons as a spouse, other members of the dynasty, or a vice-president, for whom this is often the core of their public role, or in other cases (possibly as a message, for instance, to distance themselves without giving protocollary offence) just military or other aid.

For non-executive heads of state there is often a degree of censorship by the politically responsible government (such as the prime minister), discreetly approving agenda and speeches, especially where the constitution (or customary law) assumes all political responsibility by granting the crown inviolability (in fact also imposing political emasculation) as in the Kingdom of Belgium from its very beginning; in a monarchy this may even be extended to some degree to other members of the dynasty, especially the heir to the throne.

[edit] Chief diplomatic officer

Russian Head of State and President Vladimir Putin (right) receives the Letters of Credence from the French ambassador.
  • The head of state accredits his or her country's ambassadors, through sending formal letters of credence to other heads of state. Without that accreditation, an ambassador cannot take up a role and receive the highest diplomatic status. However there are provisions in international law to perform the same diplomatic functions, or at least part of them, such as accrediting with a lower title with the government, or functioning within another mission
  • He or she receives letters of credence, sent by other heads of state accrediting their ambassadors or other diplomats to the state.
  • He or she signs international treaties on behalf of the state, or has them signed in his/her name by ministers (government members or diplomats); subsequent ratification, when necessary, usually rests with the legislature.
Example 1: Article 59 (1) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany states -
The Federal President shall represent the Federation in its international relations. He shall conclude treaties with foreign states on behalf of the Federation. He shall accredit and receive envoys.
Example 2: Section 2, Article 81 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China states -
The President of the People's Republic of China receives foreign diplomatic representatives on behalf of the People's Republic of China and, in pursuance of decisions of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, appoints and recalls plenipotentiary representatives abroad, and ratifies and abrogates treaties and important agreements concluded with foreign states.

[edit] Chief executive officer

In the vast majority of states, whether republics or monarchies, executive authority is vested, at least notionally, in the Head of State. In presidential systems the Head of State is the actual, de facto chief executive officer. Under parliamentary systems the executive authority is theoretically exercised by the head of state but in practice exercised on the advice of the prime minister or cabinet. This produces such terms as Her Majesty's Government and His Excellency's Government. Examples of parliamentary systems in which the Head of State is notional chief executive include Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The few exceptions include the Czech Republic and the Republic of Ireland, where executive authority is explicitly vested in the cabinet, and Sweden. The head of state may also be described as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, although in parliamentary systems this can be seen as a notional designation only.

Example 1 (presidential system): Article 2, Section 1 of the United States Constitution states:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.
Example 2 (Victorian era constitutional monarchy): Under Chapter II, Section 61 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900:
The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.
Example 3 (mid-20th century constitutional monarchy): According to Section 12 of the Constitution of Denmark 1953:
Subject to the limitations laid down in this Constitution Act the King shall have the supreme authority in all the affairs of the Realm, and he shall exercise such supreme authority through the Ministers.
Example 4 (modern republican parliamentary system): According to Article 26 (2) of the 1975 Constitution of Greece:
The executive power shall be exercised by the President of the Republic and by the government.

[edit] Chief appointments officer

  • He or she appoints most or all the key officials in the state, including members of the cabinet, the prime minister (if there is one), key judicial figures and all major office holders. In most parliamentary systems the prime minister is appointed with the consent of the legislature, and other figures are appointed on the prime minister's advice. Some countries have alternative provisions - under Article 4 of the Instrument of Government 1974, the constitution of Sweden grants to the parliamentary speaker the role of formally appointing the prime minister. In practice, this decision is often a formality. The last time a British monarch actually selected the prime minister occurred in 1963, when Queen Elizabeth II chose Sir Alec Douglas-Home to succeed Harold Macmillan. In presidential systems such as that of the United States, appointments are nominated by the president's sole discretion, and this nomination is often subject to parliamentary confirmation (in the case of the U.S., the U.S. Senate has to approve cabinet nominees and judicial appointments by simple majority).
  • He or she may dismiss office-holders, mainly the same. In parliamentary systems, this is done only on the binding advice of another office-holder; for example, members of the Irish cabinet are dismissed by the President of Ireland on the advice of the Taoiseach (prime minister). In some instances, the Head of State may be able to dismiss an office holder themselves. Many heads of state or their representatives have the theoretical power to dismiss any office-holder while it is exceptionally rarely used. Its use is sometimes controversial, such as when the Australian Governor-General dismissed the prime minister during the 1975 Australian Constitutional Crisis. In France, while the president cannot force the prime minister to tender the resignation of his government, he in practice can request it if the prime minister is from his own majority. In presidential systems, the president often has the power to fire ministers at his sole discretion. In the United States, convention calls for cabinet secretaries to resign on their own initiative when called to do so.
Example 1 (semi-presidential system): Chapter 4, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea states:
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly.
Example 2 (parliamentary system): Article 13.1.1 of the Constitution of Ireland:
The President shall, on the nomination of Dáil Éireann [the lower house], appoint the Taoiseach [prime minister].

[edit] Legislative roles

U.S. President George W. Bush signs a bill into law at a public ceremony. As head of state, the President has several ways by which to use the ability to approve or veto a proposed bill, though if he directly vetoes the bill a supermajority can override it.

Most countries require that all bills passed by the house or houses of the legislature be signed into law by the head of state. In some states, such as the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland, the Head of State is in fact formally considered a tier of parliament. In presidential systems the Head of State often has power to veto a bill. In most parliamentary systems, however, the Head of State cannot refuse to sign a bill, but may, in granting a bill their assent, nevertheless indicate that it was passed in accordance with the correct procedures. The signing of a bill into law is formally known as promulgation. Some Commonwealth of Nations states call this procedure Royal Assent.

Example 1 (presidential system): Article 1, Section 7 of the United States Constitution states:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.
Example 2 (parliamentary system): Section 11.a.1. of the Basic Laws of Israel states:
The President of the State shall sign every Law, other than a Law relating to its powers.

In some parliamentary systems the head of state retains certain powers, in relation to bills, to be exercised at his or her discretion. They may have authority to:

  • Veto a bill until the houses of the legislature have reconsidered it, and approved it a second time.
  • Reserve a bill to be signed later, or suspend it indefinitely (generally in states with the Royal Prerogative; this power is rarely used).
  • Refer a bill to the courts to test its constitutionality (e.g. the President of Ireland)
  • Refer a bill to the people in a referendum (e.g. the President of Ireland may do so in certain circumstances).

If he or she is also chief executive, he or she can thus politically control the necessary executive measures without which a proclaimed law can remain dead letter, sometimes for years or even forever.

[edit] Supreme commander of the military

Example: Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.
Iraqi government propaganda poster of Saddam Hussein in full uniform
  • In military dictatorships, or governments which have arisen from coups-d'état, this position is obvious, as all authority in such a government derives from the application of military force; occasionally a power vacuum created by war is filled by a head of state stepping beyond his or her normal constitutional role, as King Albert I of the Belgians did during World War I.
  • While in 'revolutionary' regimes the heads of states, and often executive ministers whose office in legally civilian, frequently appear in military uniform, this is far rarer in mature, secure democracies, even in wartime, as statesmen and public are eager to assert the 'primate' of (civilian, elected) politics over the armed forces.

[edit] Summoning and dissolving the legislature

  • A head of state is often empowered to summon and dissolve the legislature. In most parliamentary systems, this is done on the advice of the prime minister or cabinet. In some parliamentary systems, and in some presidential systems, the Head of State may do so on their own initiative. Some states, however, have fixed term parliaments, with no option of bringing forward elections (e.g. Article II, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution). In other systems there are usually fixed terms, but the head of state retains authority to dissolve the legislature in certain circumstances. Where a prime minister has lost the confidence of parliament, some states allow the head of state to refuse a parliamentary dissolution, where one is requested, forcing the prime minister's resignation.
Example: Article 13.2.2. of the Constitution of Ireland states:
The President may in absolute discretion refuse to dissolve Dáil Éireann on the advice of a Taoiseach [prime minister] who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann

[edit] Other prerogatives

  • Right of pardon
  • Granting nobility, knighthood, various honours

[edit] Selection and various types and styles of Heads of State

Various heads of state use a multitude of different styles and titles, often with many variations in content under diverse constitutions, even in a given state. In numerous cases, two or more of the following peculiar types apply, not counting the primary duo monarchy-republic. There are also several methods of head of state succession in the event of the removal or death of a sitting head of state.

In a monarchy, the monarch is the head of state. This is a relatively recent phenomenon; until the last few decades a sovereign was seen as the personal embodiment of the state, and therefore could not be head of himself or herself (hence many constitutions from the 19th century and earlier make no mention of a "head of state"). Though some still maintain that calling a monarch Head of State is incorrect, it has now become a widespread political convention to attach the label to monarchs. The Emperor (Tennō) of Japan is defined as a symbol, not head, of state by the post-war constitution but is treated as a head of state under diplomatic protocol.

For the numerous styles in monarchies, often rendered as king or emperor, but also many other, see prince, princely state and monarchy.

In a republic, the head of state is nowadays usually styled president, but many have or had other titles and even specific constitutional positions (see below), and some have used simply 'head of state' as their only formal title.

[edit] Legitimacy & Term in office

The position of head of state (within, or as well as, the state) can be established in different ways, and based of different legitimations.

  • Force is often the true origin of power, but to keep the victor’s right, formal legitimacy must be found, even if by fictitious claim of continuity such as forged descent or legacy from a previous dynasty
  • There have also been true cases of granting sovereignty, such as dynastic splits (not just by laws of succession, also by deliberate acts); this is usually forced, such as self-determination granted after nationalist revolts, or the last Attalid king of hellenistic Pergamon by testament leaving his realm to Rome (to avoid a disastrous conquest)
  • Under theocracy, divine status (as the Pharaoh's; compare Roman divus and 'heavenly mandate' as in imperial China) can render earthly authority under divine law, theoretically unchallengable; on the other hand, it can take the form of supreme divine authority above the state's, giving the priesthood that voices and interpretes it a tool for political influence, control or even dominance (thus Pharaoh Echnaton's reforms were undone by the Amun-priesthood after his death, possibly even elimination); often there is no clear model, so over time power can be disputed, as between the Pope and Holy Roman emperor in the Investiture conflict, as the temporal power seeks to guarantee its legitimation, including a formal ceremony during the coronation (such as unction; often crucial for popular support), by controlling key nominations in the clergy
  • The notion of a social contract holds that the nation (the whole people, or just the electorate...) gives a mandate, as through acclamation or election

Individual heads of state may acquire their position in a number of constitutional ways:

  • The position of a monarch is usually hereditary, but often with constitutional restrictions, or even considerable liberty for the incumbent or some body convening after his demise to chose from eligible members of the ruling house, often limited to legal descendants of the state religion or even parliamentary permission. There are rare exceptions to this, such as the Popes, who nominate the cardinals who elect the next pope in conclave. The Pope is not just the head of the Roman Catholic Church (as such the 'Holy See' is diplomatically recognised), but is also head of state of Vatican City.
  • Election usually is the constitutional way to choose the head of state of a republic, and some monarchies, either:
    • directly: through popular election; this can be made a fiction under the formula of popular acclamation; the electorate can be very selective, such as the patrician families and/or the professional corporations of a city state, or by the warriors in the case of a 'tribal' type war chief or a Roman general proclaimed by his legions.
    • indirectly: by members of the legislature or of a special college of electors, either as an expression of general suffrage (as in the United States) or an exclusive prerogative (as the Heads of States of constitutive monarchies in two modern federations: the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia).
  • a head of state can be entitled to designate his successor, such as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth Oliver Cromwell (succeeded by his son Richard )

A head of state may however seize power by force or revolution. This is not to be confused with the notion of an authoritarian or other totalitarian ruler, which rather concerns the oppressive nature of power once acquired, and therefore applies only if he is the true chief executive. Dictators often use democratic titles, though some proclaim themselves monarchs. Examples of the latter include Emperor Napoleon III of France and King Zog of Albania. Francisco Franco, who adopted the formal title Jefe del Estado, or Chief of State, and established himself as regent for a vacant monarchy. Idi Amin was one of several who made themselves President for Life.

Another type of extra-constitutional imposition, often also changing the constitution, is by a foreign power (state or alliance), either benign or, more often, rather for its own interest, such as establishing a branch of their own or a friendly dynasty.

Apart from violent ousting, a head of state's position can also be lost in several ways:

  • death (by natural causes, attentate, execution on the battlefield or other), even in case of an unlawful killing
  • expiration of the term of office under various (nearly always republican and/or elective) constitutions
  • abdication, which is legally a voluntary act (though it can be the result of overpowering political or other pressure); in some cases, an abdication cannot occur unilaterally, but comes into effect only when approved by an act of parliament (e.g. King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom)
  • abolition of the post by constitutional change of the institutions (occasionally on the contrary, a transitory clause provides the last incumbent may end his term) or even ending the existence of the state as such
  • while generally a head of state enjoys the widest form of inviolability, in some states the exceptions to this includes impeachment, or a similar constitutional procedure by which the highest legislative and/or judicial authorities are empowered to revoke his mandate on exceptional grounds: this may be a common crime, a political sin, an act by which he violates such provisions as the established religion (which is mandatory for the monarch)
  • by similar procedure his original mandate may be declared invalid
  • a referendum, either provided in the constitution or simply considered the sovereign will of the people
  • if the state does not enjoy full and true sovereignty, he may be validly discarded by a protector or suzerain liege
  • serious violation of certain fundamental treaty obligations is sometimes considered a (disputable) valid reason for the relevant international community to depose a head of state, as the Security Council of the UN or certain alliances may do
  • formal declaration of incapacity to rule, usually on such medical grounds as insanity or coma; this may either result in suspension (see below) or termination of his mandate

All ways of ending a head of state's term may carry a risk for the next incumbent, usually by contesting the validity of the procedure, but sometimes even after death in the case of pretenders.

[edit] Absent and substitute heads of state

[edit] Interim

Whenever a head of state is not available for any reason, constitutional provisions may allow the role to fall temporarily to an assigned person or collective body. In a monarchy this is usually a regent or collegial regency, in a republic rather a vice-president, the legislature or its presiding officer, the chief of government.

[edit] Delegation

A large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1952-present), with Prince Philip, hanging in a Canadian courthouse. For the Commonwealth Realms one monarch is a multiple head of state of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, eleven other realms, and all the colonies and crown territories.

In cases where one person is head of state of multiple sovereign countries, there may be need to appoint a permanent representative in each (except at home). Examples are all but one Commonwealth Realms, where their king or queen resides in another of the Crown's kingdoms, the United Kingdom, and so is represented in the others by a governor-general.

The Governor-General may fulfill many of the roles of a head of state, but legally is not the Head of State, rather an appointed representative of the head of state mandated to act in its place, even when the monarch is present in the country. Some governors-general are considered de facto heads of state because, though not the de jure (juridical or legal) head of State, in practice they function like a head of state in most or all jurisdictions.

In diplomatic situations, governors-general, if treated as de facto heads of state, are sometimes accorded a status akin to a head of state, but that is by tradition and on a case by case and person by person basis, not automatic. At state banquets, for example, toasts are made to the head of state, (e.g. "Her Majesty the Queen of Australia"), never to a governor-general, except in so far as a personal toast may be proposed subsequently to "Governor-General and Mrs Smith" as hosts of, or guests at, the banquet. Similarly, letters of credence contain the name of the head of state, not the governor-general, even if it is the latter who signs and receives them.

In 2005, Canada changed its policy and now all letters of credence are directed to the Governor General of Canada herself, not Queen Elizabeth II, making Canada the only country to not expressly issue or receive letters in the name of its head of state. Despite the fact that the Governor General of Canada remains the representative of the Queen of Canada, and appointed by her to that role, and thus is still constitutionally issuing letters of credence indirectly on behalf of the Queen of Canada, even if no longer explicitly by name, the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada stated in its press release announcing the changes to the letters of credence and recall, issued December 29, 2004, that "in international diplomatic practice, Letters of Credence are formal diplomatic instruments that are presented by High Commissioners and Ambassadors to the Head of State of the host country... Letters of Credence and Recall presented by foreign High Commissioners and Ambassadors to Canada will now be addressed to the Governor General directly." This wording implies that the government of Canada, as least during Prime Minister Paul Martin's tenure, regarded the Governor General as the Canadian Head of State. <ref>Prime Minister of Canada: Canada updates diplomatic practice</ref> Similarly, a 2004 report issued by the Canadian Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates recognised that the nation is a constitutional monarchy, however described the 1947 Letters Patent as having devolved all powers of the Sovereign to the Governor General, making the latter Head of State, and then continued to refer to the Governor General as Head of State throughout the report. <ref>The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates: Second Report: The Governor General of Canada:Role, Duties and Funding for Activities</ref> That same year, the then Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, attended a ceremony in France to recognize Canada's involvement at Juno Beach in the D-Day landings of 1944. Her office stated that she was present as Canada's head of state, and thus the Governor General was treated as the senior official in attendance, over even the Queen who was also present at the ceremony. While laying wreaths, the ceremony commentator stated that the Governor General was laying a wreath on behalf of Canada, whereas the Queen was laying a wreath on behalf of the Commonwealth. Rideau Hall later retracted the assertion that the Governor General attended as head of state, saying that it was an error of a junior official, but this did not explain the unusual shift in protocol observed at the ceremony itself.

In opposition to this thinking, in the opening of his first speech in the Canadian House of Commons, Harper stated: "I'd like to acknowledge and thank a number of people. First of all I'd would like to pay tribute to our head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II." <ref>Prime Minister of Canada: Video Centre</ref> As well, the Governor General of Canada's website now refers to the Queen of Canada as Canada's head of state. <ref>Governor General of Canada: Role and Responsibilities of the Governor General</ref> However, the Canadian letters of creedence and recall continue to be issued in the name of, and addressed to the Governor General alone.

The question of whether the Sovereign or the Governor General is head of state has also arisen in Australia, where some, especially amongst those on the monarchist side of the republic debate, and most notably Professor David Flint, National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, and Sir David Smith in his book Head of State: the Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal, have stated that the Governor General is Head of State. <ref>Dispelling the myths:the Head of State</ref> Most others regard the Queen of Australia as the Australian Head of State.

As a colony or other dependent state or territory lacks the authority to vest in a true Head of State of its own, it either has no comparable office, simply receiving those roles exercised by the paramount powers (in person or, most of the time, through an appointed representative, often styled (lieutenant-)governor, but also various other titles, on the Cook Islands even simply King/Queen's Representative) or has one, such as a formerly sovereign dynasty, but under a form of metropolitan guardianship, such as protection, vassal or tributary status.

[edit] Extraordinary arrangements

In exceptional situations, such as war, occupation, revolution or a coup d'état, constitutional institutions, including the symbolically crucial head of state, may be reduced to a lesser role (legitimating the power taken over behind the throne) or be suspended in favor of an emergency office (such as the original Roman Dictator) or eliminated by of new 'provisionary' regime (sincere or clinging to power), often a collective of the junta type, with endlessly varying names and composition, or simply find itself under military authority as imposed by an occupying force, such as a military governor (an early example being the Spartan Harmost)

[edit] Theocratic, Ecclesiocratic and other 'pious' Heads of State

Since Antiquity, various dynasties -or individual rulers- claimed to have received to right to rule by divine ancestry. Thus both the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Great Inca both were descended from their respective sun gods, and often maintained this legitimating bloodline by marriages with their own sisters.

In Christianity (Roman Catholicism, and in some cases continued when turned Protestant):

In Islam:

  • Caliphs were the spiritual and temporal, absolute successors of the Prophet, but lost political power
  • Imam of rare theocratic Muslim states known as imamates; notably:
    • the present sultante of Oman (`Uman) was ruled 661 - 1811/1821 by the Ibadi community under a religious leader styled Imam al-Muslimin "Imam of the Muslims"), a member of the Azd clan, with several interruptions under foreign rulers; 1784 while Imams rule continues, Muscat and Oman becomes a de facto sovereign state under a secular Al ´Bu Sa`id ruler; 3 October 1868 - January 1871 Imams rule briefly restored.
    • in Yemen, and with suzerainty over other arts of the Arabian peninsula
    • in (Lower) `Asir, under the Idris dynasty, the religious style of Imam was combined with the temporal ruler style of Sheikh since 1830, and since 1909 the higher style (assumed by the last of four Shaikhs) of Emir, until 20 November 1930 the shaikhdom was incorporated into Hejaz-Nejd (which became Saudi Arabia)
    • in Nejd the Emirs (1744 - 1817) were from 15 January 1902 also Imams and Protectors of the Wahhabis (fundamentalist sect of Sunni islam)
    • the Adal Imams 1526 - 1548 ruled the later British Somalia and Somaliland (an interlude between Ottoman and other foreign regimes).
    • in some of present Mali's traditional Jihad states, notably Dina (the Sise Jihad state) and the Tijaniyya Jihad state and its successor states Segu and Massina after a split; the last fama of the Samori Empire (formerly Wassulu) till its extinction by French colonization
    • after the 1813 annexed into Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan, there was a nationalist 1828 - 1859 Imamate of Daghestan until its 1859 reincorporated into Russian Empire.
  • Sheikh * e.g. of the Sunni Sanusi order in Cyrenaica (Libya) since 1843, styled Emir since 25 October 1920
  • In the Islamic Republic Iran the rahbar (Supreme Leader, at present Ali Khamenei) and a council of guardians, all Shiah clerics, hold perhaps the highest offices in terms of political power, but the only formal Head of State is the elected (sometimes lay) President.
  • The Aga Khans were a special case

In Hinduism, certain dynasties adopted a title expressing their positions as 'servant' of a patron deity of the state, but in the sense of a (prime) minister under a figure head of state, ruling 'in the name of' the god(ess), e.g.:

In Buddhism:

  • the Dalai Lama was the god-king of Tibet before a pro-independence uprising was crushed by the government of the People's Republic of China
  • Outer Mongolia, the former homeland of the imperial Genghis Khan-dynasty, was another lamaist theocracy since 1585, using various styles in several languages, see Khutughtu, replaced 20 May 1924 by a communist republic (which assigned the Head of State role to chairmanships).

[edit] City states and crowned republics

  • Both the polis in Antiquity (actual Greek and many parallels, e.g. Italic) and the equivalent city states in the feudal era (many in Italy, the rest of the Holy Roman Empire, the Moorish taifa, essentially tribal-type but urbanized regions throughout the world in the Mayan civilization etc.), and in some cases even much later, offer a wide spectrum of styles, either monarchic (mostly identical to homonyms in larger states) or republican, see Chief magistrate
  • Doges were elected by their Italian aristocratic republics from a patrician nobility, but 'reigned' as sovereign dukes

The paradoxical term crowned republic (see there) refers to various state arrangements that combine 'republican' and 'monarchic' characteristics

[edit] Multiple or collective Heads of State

An Older Composition Of The Federal Council of Switzerland - The seven-member collective Head of State of Switzerland (also depicted: Federal Chancellor, far right in grey)

[edit] Unique cases and titles

Though "president" and various monarchic titles are most commonly used for heads of state, some nationalistic regimes (usually republics), the leader adopts, formally or de facto, a unique style simply meaning "leader" in the national language, such as Nazi Germany's single party chief and head of state and government, Adolf Hitler Führer (see that article for equivalents).

In 1959, when former British crown colony Singapore gained self-government, it adopted the Malay style Yang di-Pertuan Negara (literally means "head of state" in Malay) for its governor (the actual head of state remained the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II). The second and last incumbent of the office, Yusof bin Ishak, kept the style at the 31 August 1963 unilateral declaration of independence and after the 16 September 1963 accession to Malaysia as a state (so now as a constitutive part of the federation, a non-sovereign level). After withdrawing from Malaysia at 9 August 1965, it became a sovereign Commonwealth republic and installed Yusof bin Ishak as its first President.

There are also a few nations in which the exact title and definition of the office of head of state have been vague. During the Cultural Revolution, following the downfall of Liu Shaoqi, who was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, no successor was named, so the duties of the head of state were transferred collectively to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. This situation was later changed: the Head of State of the PRC is now the President of the People's Republic of China.

In North Korea, Kim Il-sung was named "eternal president" following his death and the presidency was abolished. As a result, the duties of the head of state are constitutionally delegated to the Supreme People's Assembly whose chairman is "Head of State for foreign affairs" and performs some of the roles of a Head of State, such as accrediting foreign ambassadors. However, the symbolic role of a Head of State is generally performed by Kim Jong-il, who as the leader of the party and military, is the most powerful person in North Korea.

In some states the office of head of state is not expressed in a specific title reflecting that role, but constitutionally awarded to a post of another formal nature. Thus in March 1979 colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, who kept absolute power (still known as "Guide of the Revolution"), after ten years as combined Head of State and Head of government of the Libyan Jamahiriya ("state of the masses"), styled Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, formally transferred both qualities, to the General secretaries of the General People's Congress (comparable to a Speaker) respectively to a Prime Minister, in political reality both his creatures.

Sometimes a head of state assumes office as a state becomes legal and political reality, before a formal title for the highest office is determined; thus in the since 1 January 1960 independent republic Cameroon (Cameroun, a former French colony), the first President, Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo (b. 1924 - d. 1989), was at first not styled président but 'merely' known as Chef d'état (literal French for 'Head of State') until 5 May 1960; in Uganda, military coup leader since 25 January 1971 Idi Amin was formally styled military head of State till 21 February 1971, only from then on regular (but unconstitutional, not elected) President.

Sometimes a state chooses to use a descriptive term in stead of a specific style, possibly even by abolishing an existing one. Thus when the 18 September 1921 proclaimed Independence of the Rif, under an Emir (ambivalent word, either general or ruler; full Arabic style Amir ar-Rif 18 September 1921 - 1 February 1923) Sayyidi Muhammad bin `Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi; known as Abd el-Krim (b. 1882 - d. 1963) transformed itself on 1 February 1923 into the Rif Republic (Dawlat al-Jumhuriyya ar-Rifiyya, in Arabic means circa 'people's state of the Rif'), the same incumbent Head of State was now re-styled Ra'is ad-Dawla (a literal Arabic translation of "head of state") till it was dissolved, in 1926 by Franco-Spanish forces.

In certain cases a special style is needed to accommodate the imperfect statehood, e.g. Sardar-i-Riyasat in Kashmir after its accession to India; the long de facto embodiment of Palestianian aspiration to independent statehood, PLO-leader Yasser Arafat was styled 5 July 1994 the first "President of the Palestinian National Authority" after an agreement with the military occupying power Israel allowed a Palestinian National Authority as a transitional status including Palestinian interim self-governing and a phased transfer of powers and territories (towns and areas of the West Bank), still awaiting the outcome of bumpy negotiations -he was repeatedly put under a form of Israeli arrest while in office- on its permanent status, which could end in a Palestinian State.

[edit] Statistics

[edit] Current

  • World's longest serving current head of state: King Rama IX of Thailand (since June 9, 1946)
  • World's longest serving current republican head of state: President Omar Bongo of Gabon (since November 28, 1967). Note: Fidel Castro of Cuba is often considered to be one of the longest-serving as well, as his government has been in power since 1959. However, technically Castro has been full head of state only since 1976 when he was appointed President of the Republic. Previously he had been only Prime Minister under a figurehead president.

[edit] History

[edit] Former heads of state

Puyi, the last emperor of China, abdicated from the throne in 1912, but was allowed to keep his titles and palace until 1924. He worked as a gardener in his later life as an ordinary Chinese citizen in Communist China.

A monarch may retain his style and certain prerrogatives after abdication, as King Leopold III of Belgium who left the throne to his son after winning (but not in both linguistic communities of the country) a referendum; he retained a full royal household but no constitutional or representative role at all. In the case of Napoleon I Bonaparte, the Italian principality of Elba, chosen for his luxurious imprisonment after the remains of his Grande Armée (following the disastrous Russian campaign) had finally been defeated in 1814, was transformed into a miniature version of his First Empire, with most trappings of a sovereign monarchy, until his Cent Jours ('100 days' escape and reseizure of power in France) convinced the allies, reconvening the Vienna Congress in 1815, to revoke those gratitious privileges and send him to die in exile on barren St.Helena.

By tradition a deposed monarch who has not freely abdicated, though no longer head of state, is allowed to use their monarchical title as a courtesy title for their lifetime. Hence, though he ceased to be Greek king in 1973 (in a disputed referendum during the Regime of the Colonels), or in 1974 (in a referendum after the reestablishment of democracy), it is still standard to refer to the deposed king as Constantine II of Greece. However none of his descendants will be entitled to be called King of the Hellenes (not King of Greece) after his death. Some states dispute the international acceptance of the right of their deposed monarchs to be referred to by their former title. It remains however the generally accepted formula, with most states declining to get involved in disputes between governments and deposed monarchs and simply stating that they are doing no more than recognising tradition, not supporting claims to a defunct throne. Other states have no problem with deposed monarchs being so referred to by former title, and even allow them to travel internationally on the state's diplomatic passport.

[edit] Sources, References and External links

  • Pauly-Wissowa in German, on Antiquity
  • Rulers.org List of rulers throughout time and places
  • RoyalArk quite elaborate on many non-European monarchies
  • WorldStatesmen History and incumbents of states and minor polities worldwide
  • Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German)

[edit] Footnotes


[edit] See also

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Head of State

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