Head of government

Last updated

In the executive branch, the head of government is the highest or the second-highest official of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, autonomous region, or other government who often presides over a cabinet, a group of ministers or secretaries who lead executive departments.


In diplomacy, "head of government" is differentiated from "head of state". [1] [2] [3] [4]

The authority of a head of government, such as a president, chancellor, or prime minister, and the relationship between that position and other state institutions, such as the relation between the head of state and of the legislature, varies greatly among sovereign states, depending largely on the particular system of the government that has been chosen, won, or evolved over time.

In most parliamentary systems, including constitutional monarchies, the head of government is the de facto political leader of the government, and is answerable to at least one chamber of the legislature. Although there is often a formal reporting relationship to a head of state, the latter usually acts as a figurehead who may take the role of chief executive on limited occasions, either when receiving constitutional advice from the head of government or under specific provisions in a constitution. [5]

In presidential republics or in absolute monarchies, the head of state is also usually the head of government. [6] The relationship between that leader and the government, however, can vary greatly, ranging from separation of powers to autocracy, according to the constitution (or other basic laws) of the particular state.

In semi-presidential systems, the head of government may answer to both the head of state and the legislature with the specifics provided by each country's constitution. [7] A modern example is the present French government, which originated as the French Fifth Republic in 1958. In France, the president, the head of state, appoints the prime minister, who is the head of government. However, the president must choose someone who can act effectively as an executive, but who also enjoys the support of France's legislature, the National Assembly, to be able to pass legislation.

In some cases, the head of state may represent one political party but the majority in the National Assembly is of a different party. Given that the majority party has greater control over state funding and primary legislation, the president is in effect forced to choose a prime minister from the opposition party to ensure an effective, functioning legislature. In this case, known as cohabitation, the prime minister, along with the cabinet, controls domestic policy, with the president's influence largely restricted to foreign affairs.

In communist states, the General Secretary of the Communist Party is the supreme leader, serving as de facto head of state and government. In China, the de jure head of government is the Premier. The Chinese president is legally a ceremonial office, but the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (top leader in a one-party system) has always held this office since 1993 except for the months of transition. [8] [9]

In directorial systems, the executive responsibilities of the head of government are spread among a group of people. A prominent example is the Swiss Federal Council, where each member of the council heads a department and also votes on proposals relating to all departments.

Titles of respective 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 may also be an informal generic term to refer to whichever office is considered the principal minister under an otherwise styled head of state, as ministerLatin for servants or subordinates—is a common title for members of a government (but many other titles are in use, e.g. chancellor and secretary of state). Formally the head of state can also be the head of government as well (ex officio or by ad hoc cumulation, such as a ruling monarch exercising all powers himself) but otherwise has formal precedence over the head of government and other ministers, whether he is their actual political superior (ruling monarch, executive president) or rather theoretical or ceremonial in character (constitutional monarch, non-executive president). Various constitutions use different titles, and even the same title can have various multiple meanings, depending on the constitutional order 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 checking the head of government, include the following. Some of these titles relate to governments below the national level (e.g. states or provinces).

Alternative English terms and renderings

Equivalent titles in other languages

Under a dominant head of state

In a broader sense, a head of government can be used loosely when referring to various comparable positions under a dominant head of state (especially is the case of ancient or feudal eras, so the term "head of government", in this case, could be considered a contradiction in terms). In this case, the prime minister serves at the pleasure of the monarch and holds no more power than the monarch allows. Some such titles are diwan, mahamantri, pradhan, wasir or vizier.

However, just because the head of state is the de jure dominant position does not mean that he/she will not always be the de facto political leader. A skilled head of government like 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia and later Chancellor of Germany under Emperor/King Wilhelm I, serves as an example showing that possession of formal powers does not equal political influence.

Indirectly referred as the 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:

Combined heads of state and government

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and President Christina Kirchner of Argentina in 2015. Dilma Rousseff and Cristina Kirchner at 48th Mercosur Summit (2).jpg
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and President Christina Kirchner of Argentina in 2015.

In some models the head of state and head of government are one and the same. These include:

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. The only state in which this system is currently employed is Switzerland but other countries such as Uruguay have employed it in the past. This system is described as the directorial system.

See Head of state for further explanation of these cases.

Parliamentary heads of government

The heads of government of five members of the Commonwealth of Nations at the 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. From left to right, Mackenzie King (Canada), Jan Smuts (South Africa), Winston Churchill (United Kingdom), Peter Fraser (New Zealand), and John Curtin (Australia). CommonwealthPrimeMinisters1944.jpg
The heads of government of five members of the Commonwealth of Nations at the 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. From left to right, Mackenzie King (Canada), Jan Smuts (South Africa), Winston Churchill (United Kingdom), Peter Fraser (New Zealand), and John Curtin (Australia).

In parliamentary systems, government functions along the following lines:

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 some 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

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 their prime ministerial offices at all, the offices became a de facto political reality without a formal constitutional status. Some constitutions make a Prime Minister primus inter pares (first among equals) and that remains the practical reality for the Prime Minister of Belgium and the Prime Minister of Finland. Other states however, make their head of government 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, with the Prime Minister just one member voting on the suggestion. In Israel, while the Government is nominally a collegiate body with a primus inter pares role for the Prime Minister, the Israeli Prime Minister is the dominant figure in the executive branch in practice. [12] The Prime Minister of Sweden, under the 1974 Instrument of Government, is a constitutional office with all key executive powers either directly at his or her disposal or indirectly through the collegial Government, whose members are all appointed and dismissed at the Prime Minister's sole discretion.

Under the unwritten British constitution, the prime minister's role has evolved, based often on the individual's personal appeal and strength of character, as contrasted between, for example, Winston Churchill as against Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher as against John Major. It is alleged[ by whom? ] that the increased personalisation of leadership in a number of states has led to heads of government 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 head of government. Such allegations have been made against three former British Prime ministers: Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and Boris Johnson. They were also made against Italian prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi, Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Federal Chancellor of West Germany (later all of Germany), Helmut Kohl, when in power.[ citation needed ]

Official residence

The head of government is often provided with an official residence, often in the same fashion as heads of state often are. The name of the residence is often used as a metonym or alternative title for 'the government' when the office is politically the highest, e.g. in the UK "Downing Street announced today…"

Well-known official residences of heads of government include:

Similarly, heads of government of 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, sometimes used as an opportunity to display aspirations of statehood:

Usually, the residence of the heads of government is not as prestigious and grand as that of the head of state, even if the head of state only performs ceremonial duties. Even the formal representative of the head of state, such as a governor-general, may well be housed in a grander, palace-type residence. However, this is not the case when both positions are combined into one:


See also


  1. Not to be confused with a hotel, as a grand stately house is also called a hôtel in French.

Related Research Articles

Politics in Estonia takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Estonia is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Legislative power is vested in the Estonian parliament. Executive power is exercised by the government, which is led by the prime minister. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Estonia is a member of the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO.

A head of state is the public persona of a sovereign state. The specific naming of the head of state depends on the country's form of government and separation of powers, the head of state may be a ceremonial figurehead or concurrently the head of government and more.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prime minister</span> Top minister of cabinet and government

A prime minister or chief of cabinet is the head of the cabinet and the leader of the ministers in the executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary or semi-presidential system. Under those systems, a prime minister is not the head of state, but rather the head of government, serving as the principal administrator under either a monarch in a monarchy or a president in a republican form of government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">President (government title)</span> Title of the head of state in various governments

President is a common title for the head of state in most republics. The president of a state is, generally speaking, the head of the government and the fundamental leader of the country or the ceremonial head of state.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westminster system</span> Parliamentary system of government

The Westminster system, or Westminster model, is a type of parliamentary government that incorporates a series of procedures for operating a legislature, first developed in England. Key aspects of the system include an executive branch made up of members of the legislature, and that is responsible to the legislature; the presence of parliamentary opposition parties; and a ceremonial head of state who is separate from the head of government. The term derives from the Palace of Westminster, which has been the seat of the Westminster Parliament in England and later the United Kingdom since the 13th century. The Westminster system is often contrasted with the presidential system that originated in the United States, or with the semi-presidential system, based on the government of France.

A governor is an administrative leader and head of a polity or political region, ranking under the head of state and in some cases, such as governors-general, as the head of a state's official representative. Depending on the type of political region or polity, a governor may be either appointed or elected, and the governor's powers can vary significantly, depending on the public laws in place locally. The adjective pertaining to a governor is gubernatorial, from the Latin root gubernare.

Premier is a title for the head of government in central governments, state governments and local governments of some countries. A second in command to a premier is designated as a deputy premier.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chancellor of Austria</span> Head of government of the Republic of Austria

The chancellor of the Republic of Austria is the head of government of the Republic of Austria. The position corresponds to that of Prime Minister in several other parliamentary democracies.

A presidency is an administration or the executive, the collective administrative and governmental entity that exists around an office of president of a state or nation. Although often the executive branch of government, and often personified by a single elected person who holds the office of "president", in practice, the presidency includes a much larger collective of people, such as chiefs of staff, advisers and other bureaucrats. Although often led by a single person, presidencies can also be of a collective nature, such as the presidency of the European Union is held on a rotating basis by the various national governments of the member states. Alternatively, the term presidency can also be applied to the governing authority of some churches, and may even refer to the holder of a non-governmental office of president in a corporation, business, charity, university, etc. or the institutional arrangement around them. For example, "the presidency of the Red Cross refused to support his idea." Rules and support to discourage vicarious liability leading to unnecessary pressure and the early termination of term have not been clarified. These may not be as yet supported by state let initiatives. Contributory liability and fraud may be the two most common ways to become removed from term of office and/or to prevent re-election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prime Minister of Spain</span> Head of government of Spain

The prime minister of Spain, officially president of the Government, is the head of government of Spain. The prime minister chairs the Council of Ministers and nominates its ministers; in these sense, the prime minister establishes the Government policies and coordinates the actions of the Cabinet members. As chief executive, the prime minister also advices the monarch on the exercise of its royal prerogatives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prime Minister of Belgium</span> Head of the federal government of Belgium

The prime minister of Belgium or the premier of Belgium is the head of the federal government of Belgium, and the most powerful person in Belgian politics.

Chancellor is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the cancellarii of Roman courts of justice—ushers, who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a basilica or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the audience. A chancellor's office is called a chancellery or chancery. The word is now used in the titles of many various officers in various settings. Nowadays the term is most often used to describe:

A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified tradition that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most government functions are guided by constitutional convention rather than by a formal written constitution. In these states, actual distribution of power may be markedly different from those the formal constitutional documents describe. In particular, the formal constitution often confers wide discretionary powers on the head of state that, in practice, are used only on the advice of the head of government, and in some cases not at all.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vizier</span> High-ranking political advisor or minister

A vizier, or wazir, is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in the Near East. The Abbasid caliphs gave the title wazir to a minister formerly called katib (secretary), who was at first merely a helper but afterwards became the representative and successor of the dapir of the Sassanian kings.

A minister of state is subordinate to a minister, who heads a ministry. The minister covers the entire ministry and the minister of state assists and performs other functions as assigned by the minister.

A minister-president or minister president is the head of government in a number of European countries or subnational governments with a parliamentary or semi-presidential system of government where they preside over the council of ministers. It is an alternative term for prime minister, premier, chief minister, or first minister and very similar to the title of president of the council of ministers.

In Canada, a premier is the head of government of a province or territory. Though the word is merely a synonym for prime minister, it is employed for provincial prime ministers to differentiate them from the prime minister of Canada. There are ten provincial premiers and three territorial premiers. In most provinces and all territories, these persons are styled the Honourable only while in office, unless they are admitted to the King's Privy Council for Canada, in which case they retain the title even after leaving the premiership. In Nova Scotia and Alberta, former premiers are honorary members of the provincial Executive Council and thereby retain the style the Honourable for life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prime Minister of South Korea</span> Deputy head of government of the Republic of Korea

The prime minister of the Republic of Korea is the deputy head of government and the second highest political office of South Korea who is appointed by the President of the Republic of Korea, with the National Assembly's approval. The prime minister may be a member of the National Assembly, but this is not required to hold the office. The prime minister of South Korea is not the head of government of South Korea, for the President is both the head of state and government in the country.

An indirect election or hierarchical voting is an election in which voters do not choose directly among candidates or parties for an office, but elect people who in turn choose candidates or parties. It is one of the oldest forms of elections and is used by many countries for heads of state, cabinets, heads of government, and/or upper houses. It is also used for some supranational legislatures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chancellor of Germany</span> Head of government of Germany

The chancellor of Germany, officially the federal chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, is the head of the federal government of Germany, and the commander-in-chief of the German Armed Forces during wartime. The chancellor is the chief executive of the Federal Cabinet and heads the executive branch. The chancellor is elected by the Bundestag on the proposal of the federal president and without debate.



  1. As in article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, article 1 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents and the United Nations protocol list)
  2. "Heads of state, heads of government, ministers for foreign affairs" (PDF). Protocol and Liaison Service, United Nations. 19 October 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  3. "Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969", International Law Commission, United Nations. Archived 17 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  4. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents 1973 Archived 1 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine , International Law Commission, United Nations. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  5. "Head Of State Vs. Head Of Government: A Guide". The Freeman Online. 26 January 2020. Archived from the original on 13 January 2022. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  6. "head of state | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Archived from the original on 21 September 2022. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  7. Yan, Huang-Ting (August 2021). "Prime ministerial autonomy and intra-executive conflict under semi-presidentialism". European Political Science Review. 13 (3): 285–306. doi: 10.1017/S1755773921000072 . ISSN   1755-7739. S2CID   233668466.
  8. Buckley, Chris; Wu, Adam (10 March 2018). "Ending Term Limits for China's Xi Is a Big Deal. Here's Why". New York Times . Archived from the original on 12 March 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2019. In China, the political job that matters most is the general secretary of the Communist Party. The party controls the military and domestic security forces, and sets the policies that the government carries out. China's presidency lacks the authority of the American and French presidencies.
  9. "China's 'Chairman of Everything': Behind Xi Jinping's Many Titles". The New York Times. 25 October 2017. Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2019. Mr. Xi's most important title is general secretary, the most powerful position in the Communist Party. In China's one-party system, this ranking gives him virtually unchecked authority over the government.
  10. "대통령(大統領)" (in Korean). Encyclopedia of Korean Culture. Archived from the original on 19 October 2022. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  11. "Pirimia". Maori Dictionary. Archived from the original on 1 August 2020. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  12. Amir, R.; Nachmias, D.; Arian, A. (17 December 2001). Executive Governance in Israel. Springer. p. 48. ISBN   9781403990150. Archived from the original on 19 October 2022. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  13. H.R.H. the Prime Minister Archived 12 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine . Mofa.gov.bh (20 February 2013). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  14. "Sheikh Hasina longest serving female leader in world: Survey". Uniindia.com. 9 September 2019. Archived from the original on 10 June 2022. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  15. "Survey: Sheikh Hasina tops as longest serving female leader in world". 11 September 2019. Archived from the original on 10 June 2022. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  16. "Sheikh Hasina world's longest serving female leader". Archived from the original on 10 June 2022. Retrieved 29 July 2022.


  • Jean Blondel & Ferdinand Muller-Rommel Cabinets in Western Europe ( ISBN   0-333-46209-2)