Head of state

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A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona of a sovereign state.[1] 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.

In a

semi-presidential system, such as France
, has both heads of state and government as the de facto leaders of the nation (in practice they divide the leadership of the nation between themselves).

Meanwhile, in

presidential systems, the head of state is also the head of government.[1] In one-party ruling communist states, the position of president has no tangible powers by itself, however, since such a head of state, as a matter of custom, simultaneously holds the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party, they are the executive leader with their powers deriving from their status of being the party leader
, rather than the office of president.

Former French president Charles de Gaulle, while developing the current Constitution of France (1958), said that the head of state should embody l'esprit de la nation ("the spirit of the nation").[3]

Constitutional models

Grassalkovich Palace in Bratislava is the seat of the President of Slovakia.

Some academic writers discuss

governments in terms of "models".[4][5][6][7]

An independent nation state normally has a head of state, and determines the extent of its head's executive powers of government or formal representational functions.[8] In terms of protocol: the head of a sovereign, independent state is usually identified as the person who, according to that state's constitution, is the reigning monarch, in the case of a monarchy; or the president, in the case of a republic.

Among the state constitutions (fundamental laws) that establish different political systems, four major types of heads of state can be distinguished:

  1. The parliamentary system, with two subset models;
    1. The standard model, in which the head of state, in theory, possesses key executive powers, but such power is exercised on the binding advice of a head of government (e.g. United Kingdom, India, Germany).
    2. The non-executive model, in which the head of state has either none or very limited executive powers, and mainly has a ceremonial and symbolic role (e.g. Sweden, Japan, Israel).
  2. The
    semi-presidential system, in which the head of state shares key executive powers with a head of government or cabinet (e.g. Russia, France, Sri Lanka
    ); and
  3. The presidential system, in which the head of state is also the head of government and has all executive powers (e.g. United States, Indonesia, South Korea).

In a federal constituent or a dependent territory, the same role is fulfilled by the holder of an office corresponding to that of a head of state. For example, in each

chief executive
as the head of the special administrative region, in addition to their role as the head of government. These non-sovereign-state heads, nevertheless, have limited or no role in diplomatic affairs, depending on the status and the norms and practices of the territories concerned.

Parliamentary system

World's parliamentary states (as of 2024):
  Republics with an executive president elected by a parliament
  Parliamentary republics
  Parliamentary constitutional monarchies in which the monarch usually does not personally exercise power
  Presidential republics, one-party states, and other forms of government

Standard model


to the head of state.

King Harald V of Norway

In parliamentary constitutional monarchies, the legitimacy of the unelected head of state typically derives from the tacit approval of the people via the elected representatives. Accordingly, at the time of the Glorious Revolution, the English parliament acted of its own authority to name a new king and queen (the joint monarchs Mary II and William III); likewise, Edward VIII's abdication required the approval of each of the six independent realms of which he was monarch. In monarchies with a written constitution, the position of monarch is created under the constitution and could be abolished through a democratic procedure of constitutional amendment. In many cases there are significant procedural hurdles imposed on such a procedure (as in the Constitution of Spain).

In republics with a parliamentary system (such as India, Germany, Austria, Italy and Israel), the head of state is usually titled president and the principal functions of such presidents are mainly ceremonial and symbolic, as opposed to the presidents in a presidential or semi-presidential system.

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 tends to 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. Usually, the king had the power of declaring war without previous consent of the parliament.

For example, under the 1848 constitution of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and then the Kingdom of Italy, the Statuto Albertino—the parliamentary approval to the government appointed by the king—was customary, but not required by law. So, Italy had a de facto parliamentary system, but a de jure "presidential" system.

Examples of heads of state in parliamentary systems using greater powers than usual, either because of ambiguous constitutions or unprecedented national emergencies, include the decision by King Leopold 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 in a referendum to allow him to resume his monarchical powers and duties, but because of the ongoing controversy he ultimately abdicated.) The Belgian constitutional crisis in 1990, when the head of state refused to sign into law a bill permitting abortion, was resolved by the cabinet assuming the power to promulgate the law while he was treated as "unable to reign" for twenty-four hours.[9][10]

Non-executive model

Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden

These officials 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

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 Constitution of Japan (日本国憲法, Nihonkoku-Kenpō) was drawn up under the Allied occupation that followed World War II and was intended to replace the previous militaristic and quasi-absolute monarchy system with a form of liberal democracy parliamentary system. The constitution explicitly vests all executive power in the Cabinet, who is chaired by the prime minister (articles 65 and 66) and responsible to the Diet (articles 67 and 69). The emperor is defined in the constitution as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" (article 1), and is generally recognised throughout the world as the Japanese head of state. Although the emperor formally appoints the prime minister to office, article 6 of the constitution requires him to appoint the candidate "as designated by the Diet", without any right to decline appointment. He is a ceremonial figurehead with no independent discretionary powers related to the governance of Japan.[11][12][13]

Since the passage in

high contracting party with respect to international treaties. The remaining official functions of the sovereign, by constitutional mandate or by unwritten convention, are to open the annual session of the Riksdag, receive foreign ambassadors and sign the letters of credence for Swedish ambassadors, chair the foreign advisory committee, preside at the special Cabinet council when a new prime minister takes office, and to be kept informed by the prime minister on matters of state.[14][15]

In contrast, the only contact the

reserve powers, such as referring a bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality, which are used under the president's discretion.[16]

The most extreme non-executive republican head of state is the President of Israel, which holds no reserve powers whatsoever.[17] The least ceremonial powers held by the president are to provide a mandate to attempt to form a government, to approve the dissolution of the Knesset made by the prime minister, and to pardon criminals or to commute their sentence.

Executive model

Some parliamentary republics (like South Africa, Botswana and Kiribati) have fused the roles of the head of state with the head of government (like in a presidential system), while having the sole executive officer, often called a president, being dependent on the Parliament's confidence to rule (like in a parliamentary system). While also being the leading symbol of the nation, the president in this system acts mostly as a prime minister since the incumbent must be a member of the legislature at the time of the election, answer question sessions in Parliament, avoid motions of no confidence, etc.

Semi-presidential systems

Charles de Gaulle, President and head of state of the French Fifth Republic (1959–1969)

Semi-presidential systems combine features of presidential and parliamentary systems, notably (in the president-parliamentary subtype) a requirement that the government be answerable to both the president and the legislature. 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 to 1988. In the French system, in the event of cohabitation, the president is often allowed to set the policy agenda in security and foreign affairs and the prime minister runs the domestic and economic 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 Chancellor without consulting the Reichstag.

Presidential system

George Washington, the first president of the United States, set the precedent for an executive head of state in republican systems of government[18]

Note: The head of state in a "presidential" system may not actually hold the title of "president" - the name of the system refers to any head of state who actually governs and is not directly dependent on the legislature to remain in office.

Some constitutions or fundamental laws provide for a head of state who is not only in theory but in practice chief executive, operating separately from, and independent from, the legislature. This system is known as a "presidential system" and sometimes called the "imperial model", because the executive officials of the government are 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 accountability 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 centers on confirming them into office, not removing them from office, and does not involve the power to reject or approve proposed cabinet members en bloc, so accountability does not operate in the same sense understood as a parliamentary system.

Latin American wars of independence of the early 19th century. 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 often seen in Latin American, Middle Eastern and other presidential regimes. Some of the characteristics of a presidential system, such as a strong dominant political figure with an executive answerable to them, not the legislature can also be found among absolute monarchies, parliamentary monarchies and single party (e.g., Communist
) regimes, but in most cases of dictatorship, their stated constitutional models are applied in name only and not in political theory or practice.

Single-party states

In certain states under


This may even lead to an institutional variability, as in

chairman of the National Defense Commission was simultaneously declared "the highest post of the state", not unlike Deng Xiaoping earlier in the People's Republic of China


an institution of the state rather than an administrative post; theoretically, the President serves at the pleasure of the National People's Congress, the legislature, and is not legally vested to take executive action on its own prerogative.[note 1]

Complications with categorisation

George V, Emperor of India, and Empress Mary at the Delhi Durbar, 1911.

While clear categories do exist, it is sometimes difficult to choose which category some individual heads of state belong to. In reality, the category to which each head of state belongs is assessed not by theory but by practice.

Constitutional change in

Greek President under the 1974 Hellenic Republic constitution moved Greece
closer to the French semi-presidential model.

Another complication exists with South Africa, in which the president is in fact elected by the National Assembly (legislature) and is thus similar, in principle, to a head of government in a parliamentary system but is also, in addition, recognised as the head of state.[24] The offices of president of Nauru and president of Botswana are similar in this respect to the South African presidency.[11][25][26]

Panama, during the military dictatorships of Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega, was nominally a presidential republic. However, the elected civilian presidents were effectively figureheads with real political power being exercised by the chief of the Panamanian Defense Forces.

Historically, at the time of the

India's head of state was the monarch of the United Kingdom, ruling directly or indirectly as Emperor of India through the Viceroy and Governor-General of India


on 2 June 1953

Head of state is the highest-ranking constitutional position in a sovereign state. A head of state has some or all of the roles listed below, often depending on the constitutional category (above), and does not necessarily regularly exercise the most power or influence of governance. There is usually a formal public ceremony when a person becomes head of state, or some time after. This may be the swearing in at the inauguration of a president of a republic, or the coronation of a monarch.

Symbolic role

One of the most important roles of the modern head of state is being a living national symbol of the state; in hereditary monarchies this extends to the monarch being a symbol of the unbroken continuity of the state. For instance, the Canadian monarch is described by the government as being the personification of the Canadian state and is described by the Department of Canadian Heritage as the "personal symbol of allegiance, unity and authority for all Canadians".[27][28]

In many countries, official

personality cult where the image of the head of state is the only visual representation of the country, surpassing other symbols such as the flag

Other common representations are on coins, postage and other stamps and banknotes, sometimes by no more than a mention or signature; and public places, streets, monuments and institutions such as schools are named for current or previous heads of state. In monarchies (e.g., Belgium) there can even be a practice to attribute the adjective "royal" on demand based on existence for a given number of years. However, such political techniques can also be used by leaders without the formal rank of head of state, even party - and other revolutionary leaders without formal state mandate.

Heads of state often greet important foreign visitors, particularly visiting heads of state. They assume a host role during a

state dinner at the official residence
of the host.

At home, heads of state are expected to render lustre to various occasions by their presence, such as by attending artistic or sports performances or competitions (often in a theatrical honour box, on a platform, on the front row, at the honours table), expositions,

ship christening
, laying the first stone. Some parts of national life receive their regular attention, often on an annual basis, or even in the form of official patronage.

The Olympic Charter (rule 55.3) of the International Olympic Committee states that the Olympic summer and winter games shall be opened by the head of state of the host nation, by uttering a single formulaic phrase as determined by the charter.[29]

As such invitations may be very numerous, such duties are often in part

cabinet minister
or in other cases (possibly as a message, for instance, to distance themselves without rendering offence) just a military officer or civil servant.

For non-executive heads of state there is often a degree of censorship by the politically responsible government (such as 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.

Below follows a list of examples from different countries of general provisions in law, which either designate an office as head of state or define its general purpose.

  • Example 1 (parliamentary monarchy): Section 56 (1) of the
    Spanish Constitution of 1978
    • The King is the Head of State, the symbol of its unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular functioning of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with the nations of its historical community, and exercises the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the laws.[30]
  • Example 2 (parliamentary absentee monarchy): Article 2 of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 states:
  • Example 3 (parliamentary non-executive monarchy): Article 1 of the Constitution of Japan states:
    • The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.[12]
  • Example 4 (parliamentary republic): Title II, Article 87 of the Constitution of Italy states:
  • Example 5 (parliamentary republic): Article 67 of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 states:
    • The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and a symbol of the unity of the country and represents the sovereignty of the country. He shall guarantee the commitment to the Constitution and the preservation of Iraq's independence, sovereignty, unity, and the safety of its territories, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.[33]
  • Example 6 (semi-presidential republic): Title II, Chapter I, Article 120 of the Constitution of Portugal states:
  • Example 7 (presidential republic): Chapter IV, Section 1, Article 66 of the
    Constitution of the Republic of Korea
    • (1)The President shall be the Head of State and represent the State vis-à-vis foreign states.
    • (2)The President shall have the responsibility and duty to safeguard the independence, territorial integrity and continuity of the State and the Constitution.[35]
  • Example 8 (semi-presidential republic): Chapter VI, Article 77 of the Constitution of Lithuania states:
    • The President of the Republic shall be Head of State.
    • He shall represent the State of Lithuania and shall perform everything with which he is charged by the Constitution and laws.[36]
  • Example 9 (semi-presidential republic): Chapter 4, Article 80, Section 1-2 of the Constitution of Russia states:
    • 1. The
      President of the Russian Federation
      shall be the Head of State.
    • 2. The President of the Russian Federation shall be the guarantor of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and of human and civil rights and freedoms. In accordance with the procedure established by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, he (she) shall adopt measures to protect the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, its independence and State integrity, and shall ensure the coordinated functioning and interaction of State government bodies.[37]
  • Example 10 (presidential republic): Section 87 (Second Division, Chapter 1) of the Constitution of Argentina provides that:
    • The Executive Power of the Nation shall be vested in a citizen with the title of "
      President of the Argentine Nation".[38]

Executive role

In the 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 exercised by the head of state, but in practice is done so on the advice of the cabinet of ministers. 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, India, Italy, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom

The few exceptions where the head of state is not even the nominal chief executive - and where supreme executive authority is according to the constitution explicitly vested in a cabinet - include the Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel, Japan and Sweden.[12][14]

Appointment of senior officials

The head of state usually appoints most or all the key officials in the government, including the

commissioned officers in the military
. In many parliamentary systems, the head of government is appointed with the consent (in practice often decisive) of the legislature, and other figures are appointed on the head of government's advice.

In practice, these decisions are often a formality. The last time the

prime minister of the United Kingdom was unilaterally selected by the monarch was in 1963, when Queen Elizabeth II appointed Alec Douglas-Home on the advice of outgoing Prime Minister Harold Macmillan

In presidential systems, such as that of the United States, appointments are nominated by the president's sole discretion, but this nomination is often subject to confirmation by the legislature; and specifically in the US, the Senate has to approve senior executive branch and judicial appointments by a simple majority vote.[44]

The head of state may also dismiss office-holders. There are many variants on how this can be done. For example, members of the Irish Cabinet are dismissed by the president on the advice of the taoiseach; in other instances, the head of state may be able to dismiss an office holder unilaterally; other heads of state, or their representatives, have the theoretical power to dismiss any office-holder, while it is exceptionally rarely used.[16] In France, while the president cannot force the prime minister to tender the resignation of the government, he can, in practice, request it if the prime minister is from his own majority.[45] In presidential systems, the president often has the power to fire ministers at his sole discretion. In the United States, the unwritten convention calls for the heads of the executive departments to resign on their own initiative when called to do so.

Some countries have alternative provisions for senior appointments: In

Speaker of the Riksdag has the role of formally appointing the prime minister, following a vote in the Riksdag, and the prime minister in turn appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers at his/her sole discretion.[14]

Diplomatic role

Kingdom of Lesotho, presenting his credentials to Russian president Vladimir Putin
on 3 August 2011
President of Czechoslovakia
and addressed to his Lithuanian counterpart

Although many constitutions, particularly from the 19th century and earlier, make no explicit mention of a head of state in the generic sense of several present day international treaties, the officeholders corresponding to this position are recognised as such by other countries.[11][47] In a monarchy, the monarch is generally understood to be the head of state.[11][48][49] The

Letter of Credence (and a Letter of Recall at the end of a tenure) to other heads of state and, conversely, receives the letters of their foreign counterparts.[51] Without that accreditation, the chief of the diplomatic mission cannot take up their role and receive the highest diplomatic status. The role of a head of state in this regard, is codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations from 1961, which (as of 2017) 191 sovereign states has ratified.[47][52]

However, there are provisions in the Vienna Convention that a diplomatic agent of lesser rank, such as a

The head of state is often designated the

high contracting party in international treaties on behalf of the state; signs them either personally or has them signed in his/her name by ministers (government members or diplomats); subsequent ratification, when necessary, may rest with the legislature. The treaties constituting the European Union and the European Communities are noteworthy contemporary cases of multilateral treaties cast in this traditional format, as are the accession agreements of new member states.[53][54][55] However, rather than being invariably concluded between two heads of state, it has become common that bilateral treaties are in present times cast in an intergovernmental format, e.g., between the Government of X and the Government of Y, rather than between His Majesty the King of X and His Excellency the President of Y.[53]

In Canada, these head of state powers belong to the monarch as part of the royal prerogative,[58][59][60][61] but the Governor General has been permitted to exercise them since 1947 and has done so since the 1970s.[61][62]

Military role

Albert II, King of the Belgians inspecting troops on Belgium's national day in 2011
Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France and General Jean-Louis Georgelin, Chief of the Defence Staff, reviewing troops during the 2008 Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris

A head of state is often, by virtue of holding the highest executive powers, explicitly designated as the

chains of command

In a constitutional monarchy or non-executive presidency, the head of state may de jure hold ultimate authority over the armed forces but will only normally, as per either written law or unwritten convention, exercise their authority on the advice of their responsible ministers: meaning that the de facto ultimate decision making on military manoeuvres is made elsewhere. The head of state will, regardless of actual authority, perform ceremonial duties related to the country's armed forces, and will sometimes appear in military uniform for these purposes; particularly in monarchies where also the monarch's consort and other members of a royal family may also appear in military garb. This is generally the only time a head of state of a stable, democratic country will appear dressed in such a manner, as statesmen and public are eager to assert the primacy of (civilian, elected) politics over the armed forces.


executive ministers
whose offices are legally civilian, will frequently appear in military uniform.

Some countries with a parliamentary system designate officials other than the head of state with command-in-chief powers.

  • In
    State of Defence is invoked (article 115b): something which has never happened so far.[56]
  • In
    chief of general staff who holds the highest level of command within the military.[66]

The armed forces of the Communist states are under the absolute control of the Communist party.

Legislative roles

It is usual that the head of state, particularly in parliamentary systems as part of the symbolic role, is the one who opens the annual sessions of the legislature, e.g. the annual

State of the Union address
in the United States of America, or the State of the Nation Address in South Africa.

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 Ireland, the head of state is, in fact, formally considered a tier of the legislature. However, in most parliamentary systems, the head of state cannot refuse to sign a bill, and, in granting a bill their assent, indicate that it was passed in accordance with the correct procedures. The signing of a bill into law is formally known as promulgation. Some monarchical states call this procedure royal assent

  • Example 1 (non-executive parliamentary monarchy): Chapter 1, Article 4 of the
    Swedish Riksdag Act
    provides that:
    • The formal opening of a
      Riksdag session takes place at a special meeting of the Chamber held no later than the third day of the session. At this meeting, the Head of State declares the session open at the invitation of the Speaker. If the Head of State is unable to attend, the Speaker declares the session open.[67]
  • Example 2 (parliamentary monarchy): Article 9 of the
    Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein
    provides that:
  • Example 3 (parliamentary republic): Section 11.a.1. of the Basic Laws of Israel states:
  • Example 4 (semi-presidential republic): According to Chapter 4, Article 84 of the
    Constitution of the Russian Federation
    • The
      President of the Russian Federation
      • a) shall announce elections to the State Duma in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation and federal law;
      • c) shall announce referendums in accordance with the procedure established by federal constitutional law;
      • d) shall submit draft laws to the State Duma;
      • e) shall sign and promulgate federal laws;
      • f) shall address the Federal Assembly with annual messages on the situation in the country and on the basic objectives of the internal and foreign policy of the State.[37]
  • Example 5 (presidential republic): Article 1, Section 7 of the
    United States Constitution
  • Example 6 (presidential republic): Article 84 of the
    Brazilian Constitution
    provides that:
    • The President of the Republic shall have the exclusive power to:
      • III – start the legislative procedure, in the manner and in the cases set forth in this Constitution;
      • IV - sanction, promulgate and order the publication of laws, as well as to issue decrees and regulations for the true enforcement thereof;
      • V - veto bills, wholly or in part;
      • XI - upon the opening of the legislative session, send a government message and plan to the National Congress, describing the state of the nation and requesting the actions he deems necessary;
      • XXIII - submit to the National Congress the pluriannual plan, the bill of budgetary directives and the budget proposals set forth in this Constitution;
      • XXIV - render, each year, accounts to the National Congress concerning the previous fiscal year, within sixty days of the opening of the legislative session.[43]
  • Example 7 (ruling monarchy): Article 106 of the Constitution of Qatar states:
    • 1. Any draft law passed by the Council shall be referred to the Emir for ratification.
    • 2. If the Emir, declines to approve the draft law, he shall return it a long with the reasons for such declination to the Council within a period of three months from the date of referral.
    • 3. In the event that a draft law is returned to the Council within the period specified in the preceding paragraph and the Council passes the same once more with a two-thirds majority of all its Members, the Emir shall ratify and promulgate it. The Emir may in compelling circumstances order the suspension of this law for the period that he deems necessary to serve the higher interests of the country. If, however, the draft law is not passed by a two-thirds majority, it shall not be reconsidered within the same term of session.[65]

In some parliamentary systems, the head of state retains certain discretionary powers in relation to bills to be exercised. 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 royal prerogative; this power is rarely used); refer a bill to the courts to test its constitutionality; refer a bill to the people in a referendum.

If the head of state also serves as the chief executive, the head of state can politically control the necessary executive measures without which a proclaimed law can remain dead letter, sometimes for years or even forever.

Summoning and dissolving the legislature

A head of state is often empowered to summon and dissolve the country's

U.S. Constitution[44]
). In other systems there are usually fixed terms, but the head of state retains authority to dissolve the legislature in certain circumstances. Where a head of government has lost support in the legislature, some heads of state may refuse a dissolution, where one is requested, thereby forcing the head of government's resignation.

Other prerogatives

Granting titles and honours


  • Example 1 (parliamentary non-executive monarchy): Chapter 5, Article 8 of the
    Swedish Instrument of Government of 1974
    • The King or Queen who is Head of State cannot be prosecuted for his or her actions. Nor can a Regent be prosecuted for his or her actions as Head of State.[14]
  • Example 2 (parliamentary monarchy): Article 5 of the Constitution of Norway states:
  • Example 3 (parliamentary republic): Chapter 3, Article 65 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic states:
    • (1) President of the Republic may not be detained, subjected to criminal prosecution or prosecuted for offence or other administrative delict.
    • (2) President of the Republic may be prosecuted for high treason at the
      suit. The punishment may be the loss of his presidential office and of his eligibility to regain it.
    • (3) Criminal prosecution for criminal offences committed by the President of the Republic while executing his office shall be ruled out forever.[69]
  • Example 4 (semi-presidential republic): Title II, Chapter I, Article 130 of the Constitution of Portugal states:
    • 1. The
      Supreme Court of Justice
      for crimes committed in the exercise of his functions.
    • 2. Proceedings may only be initiated by the
      Assembly of the Republic
      , upon a motion subscribed by one fifth and a decision passed by a two-thirds majority of all the Members of the Assembly of the Republic in full exercise of their office.
    • 3. Conviction implies removal from office and disqualification from re-election.
    • 4. For crimes that are not committed in the exercise of his functions, the President of the Republic answers before the common courts, once his term of office has ended.[34]
  • Example 5 (executive monarchy): Article 64 of the Constitution of Qatar:
    • The Emir is the head of State. His person shall be inviolable and he must be respected by all.[65]

Reserve powers

Right of pardon

  • Example 1 (parliamentary monarchy): Section 24 of the Constitution of Denmark states:
    • The King can grant pardons and amnesties. He may only pardon Ministers convicted by the Court of Impeachment with the consent of Parliament.[39]
  • Example 2 (parliamentary republic): According to Chapter V, Article 60(2) of the
    Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany
    • He [The President] shall exercise the power to pardon individual offenders on behalf of the Federation.[56]
  • Example 3 (semi-presidential republic): Title II, Article 17 of the
    French Constitution of 1958
  • Example 4 (presidential republic): Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States provides that:
    • ...and he [The President] shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.[44]
  • Example 5 (presidential parliamentary republic): Part XI, Article 80 of the Constitution of Nauru:
    • The President may-
      • (a) grant a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions, to a person convicted of an offence;
      • (b) grant to a person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, of the execution of a punishment imposed on that person for an offence;
      • (c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on a person for an offence; or
      • (d) remit the whole or a part of a punishment imposed on a person for an offence or of a penalty or forfeiture on account of an offence.[26]

Official title

In a

Grand Duke, Prince, Emir and Sultan


national socialist party chief and combined head of state and government, Adolf Hitler, as the Führer
between 1934 and 1945.

In 1959, when former

Commonwealth republic
and installed Yusof bin Ishak as its first president.

In 1959 after the resignation of

Malay honorific
originally given to kings; Sukarno awarded himself titles in that fashion due to his noble ancestry.

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 Chinese Cultural Revolution, following the downfall of Chinese President Liu Shaoqi, no successor was named, so the duties of the head of state were transferred collectively to the Vice Presidents Soong Ching-ling and Dong Biwu, then to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, but Chairman Mao Zedong was still the paramount leader. This situation was later changed: the President of the People's Republic of China is now the head of state. Although the presidency is a largely ceremonial office with limited power, the symbolic role of a head of state is now generally performed by Xi Jinping, who is also General Secretary of the Communist Party (Communist Party leader) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (Supreme Military Command), making him the most powerful person in China.

In North Korea, the late

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of North Korea, is the most powerful person
in North Korea.

There is debate as to whether Samoa was an elective monarchy or an aristocratic republic, given the comparative ambiguity of the title O le Ao o le Malo and the nature of the head of state's office.

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. Colonel

his overthrow
in 2011.

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

Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo, was at first not styled président but 'merely' known as chef d'état (French for "head of state") until 5 May 1960. In Uganda, Idi Amin
the military leader after the coup of 25 January 1971 was formally styled military head of state till 21 February 1971, only from then on as regular (but unconstitutional, unelected) president.

In certain cases a special style is needed to accommodate imperfect statehood, e.g., the title

Sadr-i-Riyasat was used in Kashmir after its accession to India, and the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat, was styled the first "President of the Palestinian National Authority" in 1994. In 2008, the same office was restyled as "President of the State of Palestine".[70]

Historical European perspectives

  • The
    Maya civilisation, etc.) 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 refers to various state arrangements that combine "republican" and "monarchic" characteristics.
  • The

In medieval Catholic Europe, it was universally accepted that the

1815 Congress of Vienna, when it was decided (due to the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the weak position of France and other catholic states to assert themselves) and remains so to this day, that all sovereign states are treated as equals, whether monarchies or republics.[74] On occasions when multiple heads of state or their representatives meet, precedence is by the host usually determined in alphabetical order (in whatever language the host determines, although French has for much of the 19th and 20th centuries been the lingua franca of diplomacy) or by date of accession.[74] Contemporary international law on precedence, built upon the universally admitted principles since 1815, derives from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (in particular, articles 13, 16.1 and Appendix iii).[75]

. The monarchies who survived through this era were the ones who were willing to subject themselves to constitutional limitations.

Interim and exceptional cases

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 republic, this is - depending on provisions outlined by the constitution or improvised - a

co-princes of Andorra
is resident in Andorra; each is represented in Andorra by a delegate, though these persons hold no formal title.

There are also several methods of head of state succession in the event of the removal, disability or death of an incumbent head of state.

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 figurehead or be suspended in favour of an emergency office (such as the original Roman dictator) or eliminated by a new "provisionary" regime, such as a collective of the junta type, or removed by an occupying force, such as a military governor (an early example being the Spartan Harmost).[citation needed]

Shared head of multiple states

In early modern Europe, a single person was often monarch simultaneously of separate states. A

co-princes of Andorra is the president of France

Such arrangements are not to be confused with supranational entities which are not states and are not defined by a common monarchy but may (or not) have a symbolic, essentially protocollary, titled highest office, e.g.,


Commonwealth realms

The Lord Tweedsmuir (left) was Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940;
Sir Paulias Matane (right) was Governor-General of Papua New Guinea
from 2004 to 2010

The Commonwealth realms share a monarch, currently Charles III. In the realms other than the United Kingdom, a governor-general (governor general in Canada) is appointed by the sovereign, usually on the advice of the relevant prime minister (although sometimes it is based on the result of a vote in the relevant parliament, which is the case for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands), as a representative and to exercise almost all the royal prerogative according to established constitutional authority. In Australia the present king is generally assumed to be head of state, since the governor-general and the state governors are defined as his "representatives".[76] However, since the governor-general performs almost all national regal functions, the governor-general has occasionally been referred to as head of state in political and media discussion. To a lesser extent, uncertainty has been expressed in Canada as to which officeholder—the monarch, the governor general, or both—can be considered the head of state. New Zealand,[31] Papua New Guinea,[77] and Tuvalu[78] explicitly name the monarch as their head of state (though Tuvalu's constitution states that "references in any law to the Head of State shall be read as including a reference to the governor-general"[79]). Governors-general are frequently treated as heads of state on state and official visits; at the United Nations, they are accorded the status of head of state in addition to the sovereign.[11]

An example of a governor-general departing from

refused the head of government's formal advice
requesting a dissolution of parliament and a general election. In a letter informing the monarch after the event, the Governor General said: "I have to await the verdict of history to prove my having adopted a wrong course, and this I do with an easy conscience that, right or wrong, I have acted in the interests of Canada and implicated no one else in my decision."

Another example occurred when, in the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, the governor-general unexpectedly dismissed the prime minister in order to break a stalemate between the House of Representatives and Senate over money bills. The governor-general issued a public statement saying he felt it was the only solution consistent with the constitution, his oath of office, and his responsibilities, authority, and duty as governor-general.[80] A letter from the queen's private secretary at the time, Martin Charteris, confirmed that the only person competent to commission an Australian prime minister was the governor-general and it would not be proper for the monarch to personally intervene in matters that the Constitution Act so clearly places within the governor-general's jurisdiction.[81]

Other Commonwealth realms that are now constituted with a governor-general as the

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Religious heads of state

sovereign of the Vatican City State, an ex officio role of the Pope

Since antiquity, various dynasties or individual rulers have claimed the right to rule by divine authority, such as the Mandate of Heaven and the divine right of kings. Some monarchs even claimed divine ancestry, such as Egyptian pharaohs and Sapa Incas, who claimed descent from their respective sun gods and often sought to maintain this bloodline by practising incestuous marriage. In Ancient Rome, during the Principate, the title divus ('divine') was conferred (notably posthumously) on the emperor, a symbolic, legitimating element in establishing a de facto dynasty.



Defender of the Faith
and acts as supreme governor of the Church of England, although this is purely a symbolic role.


Caliph of Islam from Ottoman dynasty

During the

imamates have been led by imams as head of state, such as in what is now Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia

In the

Nizari offshoot of Shia Islam in Central and South Asia, once ranking among British India's princely states
, continue to the present day.



Patmanabha Dasa (servant of Vishnu) in the case of the Maharaja of Travancore


From the time of the 5th Dalai Lama until the political retirement of the 14th Dalai Lama in 2011, Dalai Lamas were both political and spiritual leaders ("god-king") of Tibet.

lamaist theocracy from 1585, using various styles, such as tulku. The establishment of the Communist Mongolian People's Republic replaced this regime
in 1924.

Multiple or collective heads of state

Sometimes multiple individuals are co-equal heads of state, or a

Swiss Federal Council, where each member acts in turn as President for one year; the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina with members from three nations; the two Captains Regent of San Marino
, which maintains the tradition of Italian medieval republics that had always had an even number of consuls.

In the

suffetes (judges). In ancient Sparta
there were two hereditary kings, belonging to two dynasties.

In the

A modern example of a collective head of state is the

Omar Al-Bashir
. Decisions are made either by consensus or by a super majority vote (8 members).


sole government party
and the National Government bound to the instructions of the Central Executive Committee of that party.


The position of head of state can be established in different ways, and with different sources of legitimacy.

By fiction or fiat

Power can come from force, but formal

Attalid king of Hellenistic Pergamon
, who by testament left his realm to Rome to avoid a disastrous conquest.

By divine appointment

Under a theocracy, perceived divine status translated into earthly authority under


By social contract

The notion of a social contract holds that the nation—either the whole people or the electorate—gives a mandate, through acclamation or election.

By constitution

Individual heads of state may acquire their position by virtue of a constitution. An example is the Seychelles, as the 1976 Independence Constitution of the Seychelles, Article 31, stated that James Mancham would be the first President of the Republic by name, rather than by the fact he was the Prime Minister of colonial Seychelles immediately before independence.[84]

By hereditary succession

Absolute cognatic primogeniture diagram. Legend:
  • Grey: incumbent
  • Square: male
  • Circle: female
  • Black: deceased
  • Diagonal: cannot be displaced

The position of a monarch is usually hereditary, but in constitutional monarchies, there are usually restrictions on the incumbent's exercise of powers and prohibitions on the possibility of choosing a successor by other means than by birth. In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin through a historical dynasty or bloodline. This usually means that the heir to the throne is known well in advance of becoming monarch to ensure a smooth succession. However, many cases of uncertain succession in European history have often led to wars of succession.

Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system in hereditary monarchy. The order of succession is usually affected by rules on gender. Historically "agnatic primogeniture" or "patrilineal primogeniture" was favoured, that is inheritance according to seniority of birth among the sons of a monarch or head of family, with sons and their male issue inheriting before brothers and their male issue, to the total exclusion of females and descendants through females from succession.[85] This complete exclusion of females from dynastic succession is commonly referred to as application of the Salic law. Another variation on agnatic primogeniture was the so-called semi-Salic law, or "agnatic-cognatic primogeniture", which allowed women to succeed only at the extinction of all the male descendants in the male line of the particular legislator.[85][86]

Before primogeniture was enshrined in European law and tradition, kings would often secure the succession by having their successor (usually their eldest son) crowned during their own lifetime, so for a time there would be two kings in coregency – a senior king and a junior king. Examples include Henry the Young King of England and the early Direct Capetians in France.

Sometimes, however, primogeniture can operate through the female line. In some systems a female may rule as monarch only when the male line dating back to a common ancestor is exhausted. In 1980,

Roman Catholics and all persons who have married Roman Catholics are ineligible to be the British monarch
and are skipped in the order of succession.

In some monarchies there may be liberty for the incumbent, or some body convening after the death of the monarch, to choose from eligible members of the

legitimate descendants of the dynasty's founder. Rules of succession may be further limited by state religion, residency, equal marriage or even permission from the legislature

Other hereditary systems of succession included tanistry, which is semi-elective and gives weight to merit and Agnatic seniority. In some monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, succession to the throne usually first passes to the monarch's next eldest brother, and only after that to the monarch's children (agnatic seniority).

By election

First-past-the-post (plurality voting)
(ranked-choice majority voting)

Election usually is the constitutional way to choose the head of state of a republic, and some monarchies, either directly through popular election, indirectly by members of the legislature or of a special college of

cardinals under 80 years of age from among themselves in a papal conclave

By appointment

A head of state can be empowered to designate his successor, such as


By force or revolution

A head of state may seize power by force or

President for Life

By foreign imposition

A foreign power can establishing a branch of their own dynasty, or one friendly to their interests. This was often the outcome of the wars fought between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire over control of Armenia, a vital buffer state between the two realms. The

Arsacid line would henceforth sit on the Armenian throne, but his nomination had to be approved by the Roman emperor.[88]


Apart from violent overthrow, a head of state's position can be lost in several ways, including death, another by expiration of the constitutional term of office, abdication, or resignation. In some cases, an abdication cannot occur unilaterally, but comes into effect only when approved by an act of parliament, as in the case of British King Edward VIII. The post can also be abolished by constitutional change; in such cases, an incumbent may be allowed to finish their term. Of course, a head of state position will cease to exist if the state itself does.

Heads of state generally enjoy widest inviolability, although some states allow impeachment, or a similar constitutional procedure by which the highest legislative or judicial authorities are empowered to revoke the head of state's mandate on exceptional grounds. This may be a common crime, a political sin, or an act by which the head of state violates such provisions as an established religion mandatory for the monarch. By similar procedure, an original mandate may be declared invalid.

Former heads of state

Emperor Wilhelm I in Berlin, Germany, dedicated 1897, nearly 10 years after his death. The monument was destroyed by the communist government in 1950.[89]

Empress of India from 1876.[90] Another, twentieth century, example is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a group sculpture constructed (1927–1941) on a conspicuous skyline in the Black Hills of South Dakota (40th state of the Union, 1889), in the midwestern United States, representing the territorial expansion of the United States in the first 130 years from its founding, which is promoted as the "Shrine of Democracy".[91][92]

Personal influence or privileges

Former presidents of the United States, while holding no political powers per se, sometimes continue to exert influence in national and world affairs.

A monarch may retain his style and certain prerogatives after abdication, as did King

Napoleon transformed the Italian principality of Elba, where he was imprisoned, into a miniature version of his First Empire, with most trappings of a sovereign monarchy, until his Cent Jours escape and reseizure of power in France convinced his opponents, reconvening the Vienna Congress in 1815, to revoke his gratuitous privileges and send him to die in exile on barren Saint Helena

By tradition, deposed monarchs who have not freely abdicated continue to use their monarchical titles as a

Greek citizenship unless those terms are met. The former king brought this issue, along with property ownership issues, before the European Court of Human Rights for alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, but lost with respect to the name issue.[96][97]

However, some other states have no problem with deposed monarchs being referred to by their former title, and even allow them to travel internationally on the state's diplomatic passport.

The Italian constitution provides that a former president of the Republic takes the title President Emeritus of the Italian Republic and he or she is also a senator for life, and enjoys immunity, flight status and official residences certain privileges.

See also



  1. ^ It is listed as such in the current Constitution; it is thus equivalent to organs such as the State Council, rather than to offices such as that of the Premier.
  2. King of Portugal, should as a crowned head have the sovereign right to determine the precedence of how ambassadors (apart from the papal nuncio and the imperial ambassador) would rank, based on the date of their credentials. The pragmatic suggestions of Pombal was not successful, and as the pretensions among the great powers were so deep-rooted, it would take the Napoleonic Wars for the great powers to have a fresh look at the issue.[73]


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External links