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- The majority of this article is about heads of states. For more on other kinds of presidents, see Non-Governmental Presidents, below. For more on the usage of term "president", see President (history of the term).
President is a title held by many leaders of organizations, companies, trade unions, universities, and countries. Etymologically, a "president" is one who presides, who sits in leadership (from Latin prae- "before" + sedere "to sit"; giving the term Praeses). Originally, the term referred to the presiding officer of a ceremony or meeting (i.e. chairman); but today it most commonly refers to an official with executive powers.
Among other things, president today is a common title for the head of state of most republics, whether popularly elected, chosen by the legislature or a special electoral college. It is also often adopted by dictators.
 Modern history of the designation
Originally the term was used to refer to the presiding officer of a committee or governing body in Great Britain. Later this usage was applied to political leaders. Early examples are from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (from 1464); the founding President of the Royal Society William Brouncker in 1660; heads of individual British colonies (originally Virginia in 1608); and chief officers of banks (from 1781).
It was adopted as a title for the President of the United States of America.
As other countries followed the American Revolution, and deposed their monarchies, president was commonly adopted as the title for the new republican heads of state. The first European president was the president of France, a post created in the Second Republic of 1848. (The First Republic had begun with no separate executive, then established five directors, and finally echoed the ancient Roman Republic by appointing three consuls at its head.)
Today, most republics have a President as their head of state.
 Presidents in democratic countries and international organizations
Many South American, Central American, and African nations follow the presidential model.
 Parliamentary systems
Other states have adopted a parliamentary system of government, in which the president is head of state but usually largely ceremonial. In these cases the separate head of government (often a prime minister), who is usually indirectly elected by the parliamentary majority, holds the executive power and forms the government.
Countries with such systems include most European and Commonwealth republics including Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Singapore, as well as Portugal (which has a slightly different system). Sri Lanka has a hybrid system (which includes a parliament and a prime minister as well as an extremely powerful president).
Under such a system, the president as head of state generally takes a similar role to a constitutional monarch, with the government governing in his or her name, producing phrases such as "His/Her Excellency's Government" in formal state documentation.
A president may also possess some reserve powers, which can be exercised by the president without formal advice (that is, binding instruction) from the government. In some constitutional systems the president chairs (at least some) cabinet meetings and often has access to all cabinet memoranda. Especially in fields where protocol is important, such as diplomacy, the head of state tends to be a major player. The president can therefore exercise a degree of informal influence not often publicly realised.
An example of this influence is the following: between 1870 and 1940, and again from 1945 to 1958, France operated a classic parliamentary system of government, with power in a cabinet chosen by the National Assembly, and a largely, though not totally, symbolic president; in 1877, President Mac-Mahon showed that his office was constitutionally significant when he dismissed the then prime minister before calling new elections, in the hope of achieving a royalist majority to restore the monarchy (the plan failed).
 Presidential titles for mere heads of government
Some countries with parliamentary systems use a term meaning/translating as 'president' (in some languages undistinguishable from chairman) for the head of parliamentary government, often as President of the Government, President of the Council of Ministers or President of the Executive Council.
However, such an official is explicitly not the president of the country. Rather, he or she is called a president in an older sense of the word to denote the fact that he or she heads the cabinet. A separate head of state generally exists in their country that instead serves as the president or monarch of the country.
There are several examples for this kind of presidency:
- Under the French Third and the Fourth Republics, the "President of the Council" (of ministers - or prime minister) was the head of government, with the President of the Republic a largely symbolic figurehead.
- The Prime minister of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1937 was titled President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. At the same time, the Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy with a reigning monarch, the King of Ireland, as well as a resident Governor-General carrying out many head of state functions.
- The Prime Minister of Spain is officially referred to as the President of the Government of Spain, and informally known as the "president". Spain is also a kingdom with a reigning king.
- The official title of the Polish prime minister is President of the Council of Ministers (Polish Prezes Rady Ministrów)
 Semi-presidential systems
A third system is the semi-presidential system, also known as the French system, in which like the Parliamentary system there is both a president and a prime minister, but unlike the parliamentary system, the president may have significant day-to-day power. When his party controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly the president can operate closely with the parliament and prime minister, and work towards a common agenda. When the National Assembly is controlled by opponents of the President however, the president can find himself marginalized with the opposition party prime minister exercising most of the power. Though the prime minister remains an appointee of the president, the president must obey the rules of parliament, and select a leader from the house's majority holding party. Thus, sometimes the president and prime minister can be allies, sometimes rivals; the latter situation is known as cohabitation. The French semi-presidential system, which can be considered a hybrid between the first two, was developed at the beginning of the Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle. It is used in France, Finland, Russia, Sri Lanka and several post-colonial countries which have emulated the French model.
 Collective Presidency
Only a tiny minority of modern republics do not have a head of state; examples include:
- Switzerland, where the headship of state is collectively vested in the seven-member Swiss Federal Council despite the fact the system includes a president of the Confederation. The president is a member of the Federal Council elected by the Federal Assembly (the Swiss Parliament) for a year (constitutional convention mandates that the post rotates every New Year's Day); and the president is merely primus inter pares. Nevertheless, on the international stage he or she is treated as head of state. Letters of Credence appointing ambassadors are formally addressed to him or her by other heads of state.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has a three-member Presidency, each of which is elected by a different constituent nation. The position of the President of the Presidency rotates between the three members.
- San Marino, which has two Captains Regent elected by the Great and General Council.
- In the Soviet Union, while the real power was exercised by the general secretary of the Communist Party, the Presidium of the Supreme Council executed powers of collective head of state, and its chairman often was called "president" in the West.
 Presidents in dictatorships
Lucius Cornelius Sulla appointed himself in 82 BC to an entirely new office, dictator rei publicae constituendae causa, which was functionally identical to the dictatorate rei gerendae causa except that it lacked any set time limit, although Sulla held this office for over two years before he voluntarily abdicated and retired from public life. The second well-known incident of a leader extending his term indefinitely was Roman dictator Julius Caesar, who made himself "Perpetual Dictator" (commonly mistranslated as 'Dictator-for-life') in 45 BC. His actions would later be mimicked by the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who was appointed "First Consul for life" in 1802.
Ironically, most leaders who proclaim themselves President for Life do not in fact successfully serve a life term. Even so presidents like Alexandre Sabès dit Pétion, Rafael Carrera, Josip Broz Tito and François Duvalier died in office.
Several presidents have ruled until their death, but they have not officially proclaimed themselves as President for Life. For instance, Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania, who ruled until his execution (see Romanian revolution). Archbishop President Makarios became president of Cyprus late in his life (in 1960) and ruled until his death in 1977, having successfully won re-election several times.
 Presidential symbols
As the country's head of state, in most countries the president is entitled to certain symbolic honors, as well as luxury perks that come with the office. For example, most of the world's heads of state, including presidents, have a prestigious residence; often a lavish mansion or palace, sometimes more than one (e.g. summer and winter residence, country retreat) - for a list see Official residence.
Furthermore in some nations the Presidency enjoys certain symbols of office, such as an official uniform, decorations, a presidential seal, coat of arms, flag and other visible accessories; military honours such as gun salutes, Ruffles and flourishes, and a presidential guard. A common presidential symbol is the presidential sashes worn by Latin American presidents as a symbol of the presidency's continuity, and presenting the sash to the new president is a key part of the inauguration ceremony.
 Presidential chronologies of existing, recognized countries
 Specific information
- President of Argentina
- President of Austria
- President of Brazil
- President of the People's Republic of China
- President of the Republic of China
- President of Croatia
- President of Cuba
- President of Fiji
- President of Finland
- President of France
- President of Germany
- President of India
- President of Indonesia
- President of Iraq
- President of Ireland
- President of Israel
- President of Malta
- President of Mexico
- President of Pakistan
- President of Peru
- President of the Philippines
- President of the Republic of Poland
- President of the Russian Federation
- President of Serbia
- President of South Africa
- President of Switzerland
- President of Trinidad and Tobago
- President of the United States
 International presidentship
The European Union is governed in part by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a rotating post held by the member states of the European Union. In the past this has been one individual state presiding for a six-month period; as of 2007 it will be three states sharing the presidency during their overlapping 18-month terms.
There is also a President of the European Commission, who is appointed, like his portfolio Commissioners, for a whole legislature.
 Sub-national presidents
President can also be the title of the chief executive at a lower administrative level, such as the parish presidents of the parishes of the U.S. state of Louisiana, the presiding member of city council for villages in the U.S. state of Illinois, or the municipal presidents of Mexico's municipalities.
 Non-governmental presidents
President is also used as a title in some non-governmental organizations.
The head of a university or non-profit corporation, particularly in the United States of America, is often known as president. In university systems with multiple independent campuses, the relationship between the roles of president and chancellor can become quite complicated. President is also a title in many corporations. In some cases the president acts as chief operating officer under the direction of the chief executive officer.
In British constitutional practice, the chairman of an Executive Council, acting in such a capacity, is known as a President of the Executive Council. Usually this person is the Governor but is not always so.
In French legal terminology, the president of a court consisting of multiple judges is the foremost judge; he chairs the meeting of the court and directs the debates (and this thus addressed as "Mr President", Monsieur le Président, or appropriate feminine forms). In general, a court comprises several chambers, each with its own president; thus the most senior of these is called the "first president" (as in: "the First President of the Court of Cassation is the most senior judge in France"). Similarly in UK legal practice the most senior judge in each division uses this title (e.g. President of the Family Division, President of the Court of Appeal).
Many other organizations, clubs, and committees, both political and non-political are led by Presidents as well. Examples can vary from the President of a political party, to the president of a chamber of commerce, to the President of a students' union and even the president of a high school chess club.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the head of the church is known as the President. Together with his two counselors, they are known as the First Presidency. This pattern is repeated throughout the church in quorums and in other bodies, each of which is led by a president. The Methodist Church in the UK (and also other provinces) is led by the President of the Methodist Council, and assumes the role of leading minister and spokesperson.
 Sources and additional reading
- The powers, functions and functioning of presidents were reviewed by six international experts for Australia's Republic Advisory Committee in 1993. Reports by among others Professor Klaus Von Beyme (on Germany), A.G Noorani (on India), Jim Duffy (on Ireland) and Sir Ellis Clarke (on Trinidad and Tobago) outline the role of various presidencies. The full report is called An Australian Republic: The Options - The Appendices (ISBN 0-644-32589-5)
 See also
- List of democracy and elections-related topics
- CEOs of major corporations
- Head of state
- Minister-President (a head of government, not - of state)
- Prime Minister
- List of national leaders
- Heads of state timeline
- Federal World Government
- Presidents' Day
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