Head of government

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Barack Obama of the United States meet in 2015.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and President Richard Nixon of the United States in 1971.

A head of government (or chief of government) is a generic term used for either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, (commonly referred to as countries, nations or nation-states) who often presides over a cabinet, a group of ministers or secretaries who lead executive departments. The term "head of government" is often differentiated from the term " head of state", (e.g. 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), [1] [2] [3] as they may be separate positions, individuals, or roles depending on the country.

The authority of a head of government, such as a president, 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 makeup of the government that has been chosen, won, or evolved over time.

In parliamentary systems, including constitutional monarchies, the head of government is the de facto political leader of the government, and is answerable to one chamber or the entire 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. For example, in the United Kingdom, the prime minister "advises" the Queen on the appointment of the cabinet, advice she is required to accept. On the other hand, the Queen's long service as the head of state enables her to provide the prime minister with information and insight into many matters to better run the government. However, because the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, the Prime Minister uses his or her own discretion regarding whether or not to follow the Queen's advice. The Queen also is entitled to appoint a new Prime Minister.

In presidential republics or in absolute monarchies, the head of state is also usually the head of government. 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. 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 the France's legislature, the National Assembly, in order 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 in order 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 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

A common title for many heads of government is prime minister. This is used as a formal title in many states, but also informally a generic term to describe whichever office is considered the principal minister under an otherwise styled head of state, as Minister — Latin 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).

Alternate 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.

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

See Head of state for further explanation of these cases.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Regierungschef
العربية: رئيس حكومة
беларуская: Кіраўнік урада
català: Cap de govern
čeština: Hlava vlády
Esperanto: Ĉefministro
한국어: 정부수반
हिन्दी: शासनप्रमुख
Bahasa Indonesia: Kepala pemerintahan
къарачай-малкъар: Правительствону башчысы
magyar: Kormányfő
Bahasa Melayu: Ketua kerajaan
Nederlands: Regeringsleider
日本語: 政府の長
norsk nynorsk: Regjeringsleiar
олык марий: Виктервуй
polski: Szef rządu
português: Chefe de governo
română: Șef de guvern
Simple English: Head of government
српски / srpski: Шеф владе
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Šef vlade
svenska: Regeringschef
українська: Глава уряду
中文: 政府首脑