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Etymologically, a president is one who presides (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. Among other things, "President" today is a common title for the heads of state of most republics, whether popularly elected, chosen by the legislature or by a special electoral college.
Presidents in countries with a democratic or representative form of government are usually elected for a specified period of time and in some cases may be re-elected by the same process by which they are appointed, i.e. in many nations, periodic popular elections. The powers vested in such presidents vary considerably. Some presidencies, such as that of Ireland, are largely ceremonial, whereas other systems vest the President with substantive powers such as the appointment and dismissal of prime ministers or cabinets, the power to declare war, and powers of veto on legislation. In many nations the President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the nation's armed forces, though once again this can range from a ceremonial role to one with considerable authority.
Presidents in this system are either directly elected by popular vote or indirectly elected by an electoral college or some other democratically elected body.
In the United States, the President is indirectly elected by the Electoral College made up of electors chosen by voters in the presidential election. In most U.S. states, each elector is committed to voting for a specified candidate determined by the popular vote in each state, so that the people, in voting for each elector, are in effect voting for the candidate. However for various reasons the numbers of electors in favour of each candidate are unlikely to be proportional to the popular vote. Thus in four close U.S. elections (1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000), the candidate with the most popular votes still lost the election.
In Mexico, the president is directly elected for a six-year term by popular vote. The candidate who wins the most votes is elected president even without an absolute majority. The president may never get another term. The 2006 Mexican elections had a fierce competition, the electoral results showed a minimal difference between the two most voted candidates and such difference was just about the 0.58% of the total vote. The Federal Electoral Tribunal declared an elected President after a controversial post-electoral process.
In Brazil, the president is directly elected for a four-year term by popular vote. A candidate has to have more than 50% of the valid votes. If no candidates achieve a majority of the votes, there is a runoff election between the two candidates with most votes. Again, a candidate needs a majority of the vote to be elected. In Brazil, a president cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms, but there is no limit on the number of terms a president can serve.
A second system is the semi-presidential system, also known as the French system. In this system, as in the Parliamentary system, there are both a president and a prime minister; but unlike the parliamentary system, the president may have significant day-to-day power. For example in France, 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 his opponents, 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 in France as cohabitation. Variants of the French semi-presidential system, developed at the beginning of the Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle, are used in France, Finland, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka and several post-colonial countries which have emulated the French model.
Another system is the Parliamentary republic, where the Presidency is largely ceremonial. Countries using this system include Israel, Ireland, Malta, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Iceland, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Germany and Greece.
Only a tiny minority of modern republics do not have a single head of state: examples are:
- Switzerland, where the headship of state is collectively vested in the seven-member Swiss Federal Council, although there is also a President of the Confederation, who 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).
- The Captains Regent of San Marino elected by the Grand and General Council.
- In the former Soviet Union, while the real power was exercised by the general secretary of the Communist Party, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet executed powers of collective head of state, and its chairman was often called "president" in the West.
- Yugoslavia after the death of Josip Broz Tito.
In dictatorships, the title is frequently taken by self-appointed and/or military-backed leaders. Such is the case in many African states; Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and also Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines are some examples. Other presidents (in authoritarian states) have wielded only symbolic or no power, such as Craveiro Lopes in Portugal and Joaquin Balaguer under the "Trujillo Era" of the Dominican Republic.
President for Life is a title assumed by some dictators to try to ensure that their authority or legitimacy is never questioned. Ironically, most leaders who proclaim themselves President for Life do not in fact successfully serve a life term. On the other hand, presidents like Alexandre Pétion, Rafael Carrera, Josip Broz Tito and François Duvalier died in office. Kim Il-Sung was named Eternal President of the Republic after his death.
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.
Several presidents have ruled until their death, but they have not proclaimed themselves as President for Life. For instance, Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania, who ruled until his execution (see Romanian revolution).
As the country's head of state, in most countries the president is entitled to certain perquisites, and may have a prestigious residence; often a lavish mansion or palace, sometimes more than one (e.g. summer and winter residence, country retreat) – for 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 mostly Latin American presidents as a symbol of the presidency's continuity, and presenting the sash to the new president.
United Nations member countries in columns, other entities at the beginning:
- European Commission
- List of presidents of European Union institutions
- President of Kosovo
- President of Palestine
- President of the Republic of China (Taiwan)
- President of Northern Cyprus
- President of Somaliland
- President of Abkhazia
- President of South Ossetia
- President of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
- President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
- President of Transnistria
- List of Presidents of the Soviet Union (Leaders)
Some countries with parliamentary systems use a term meaning/translating as 'president' (in some languages indistinguishable 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 is called a president in an older sense of the word to denote the fact that he heads the cabinet. A separate head of state generally exists in their country that instead serves as the president or monarch of the country.
Thus, such officials are really premiers, and to avoid confusion are often described simply as 'prime minister' when being mentioned internationally.
There are several examples for this kind of presidency:
- The official title of the Italian Prime Minister is President of the Council of Ministers (Italian Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri)
- 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.
- Under the constitutional monarchies of Brazil and Portugal, the President of the Council of Ministers (Portuguese Presidente do Conselho de Ministros) was the head of government, with the Monarch being the head of State. Under the Portuguese First and Second Republics, the head of government was the President of the Ministry (Portuguese Presidente do Ministério) and then the President of the Council of Ministers, with the President of the Republic as the head of State.
- 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)
- 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 and it always stays like that.
- Between 1918 and 1934, Estonia had no separate head of state. Both Prime Ministers (1918-1920) and State Elders (1920-1934) often translated as "Presidents") were elected by the parliament.
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. Perhaps the best known sub-national presidents are the borough presidents of the Five Boroughs of New York City. In the early years of the United States, some states had "Presidents" as well, instead of "Governors".
In Poland the President of the City (Polish: Prezydent miasta) is the executive authority of the municipality elected in direct elections, the equivalent of the mayor. The Office of the President (Mayor) is also found in Germany and Switzerland .
The Lord President of the Council is one of the Great Officers of State in England who presides over meetings of British Privy Council; the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister is technically a committee of the Council, and all decisions of the Cabinet are formally approved through Orders in Council. Although the Lord President is a member of the Cabinet, the position is largely a ceremonial one and is traditionally given to either the Leader of the House of Commons or the Leader of the House of Lords.
In Spain, the executive leaders of the autonomous communities (regions) are called presidents. In each community, the can be called Presidente de la Comunidad or Presidente del Consejo among others. They are elected by their respective regional assemblies and have similar powers to a state president or governor.
Below a President, there can be a number of or "Vice Presidents" (or occasionally "Deputy Presidents") and sometimes several "Assistant Presidents" or "Assistant Vice Presidents", depending on the organisation and its size. These posts do not hold the same power but more of a subordinate position to the president. However, power can be transferred in special circumstances to the Deputy or Vice President. Normally Vice Presidents hold some power and special responsibilities below that of the President. The difference between Vice/Deputy Presidents and Assistant/Associate Vice Presidents is the former are legally allowed to run an organisation, exercising the same powers (as well as being second in command) whereas the latter are not.
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 English 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).
In the recently established Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the most senior judge is called the President of the Supreme Court. The Lord President of the Court of Session is head of the judiciary in Scotland, and presiding judge (and Senator) of the College of Justice and Court of Session, as well as being Lord Justice General of Scotland and head of the High Court of Justiciary, the offices having been combined in 1784.
President is also used as a title in many 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 academic or education systems with multiple independent campuses, the relationship between the roles of university president and chancellor can become quite complicated.
"President" is also a title in many companies and corporations. In some cases the president acts as chief operating officer under the direction of the chief executive officer. Alternatively, in the U.S., the chairman of the board of directors may be called the president.
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.
Many other organisations, 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.
- Mr. President (title)
- President (title)
- Presidents Day
- Requirements for becoming a president
- Vice president
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