is a title
leaders of organizations
, trade unions
, and countries
, a "president" is one who Preside
, who sits in leadership (from Latin pre-
"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 head of state
of most republics
, whether popularly elected
, chosen by the legislature
or by a special electoral college
. It is also often adopted by dictators
As an English word, the term was originally used to refer to the presiding officer of a committee or governing body in Great Britain. Early examples are the President of the Exchequer
("presidentis" in the original Latin
, from the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer
, 1179), the universities of Oxford
(from 1464); the founding President of the Royal Society William Brouncker
Later this usage was applied to political leaders, including the leaders of some of the Thirteen Colonies (originally Virginia in 1608); in full, the "President of the Council".. The first President of a country was George Washington, the President of the United States. In America the title was 'upgraded' from its earlier use for the President of the Continental Congress, the "officer in charge of the Continental Congress" since 1774.
As other countries followed the American Revolution, and deposed their monarchies, president was commonly adopted as the title for the new republican heads of state. The first European president was the president of France, a post created in the Second Republic of 1848. (The First Republic had begun with no separate executive, then established five directors, and finally echoed the ancient Roman Republic by appointing three consuls at its head.)
The first president of an internationally recognized African state was the President of Liberia in 1848.
Today, most republics have a President as their head of state.
Presidents as head of state
Presidents in Republican countries
In states with a presidential system
, the President functions for the Head of State
and Head of Government
, i.e. he directs the Executive branch of Government.
Presidents in this system are either directly elected by popular vote or indirectly elected by an electoral college.
In the United States of America, 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, is in effect voting for the candidate. However, in several close U.S. elections (notably 1876, 1888, 2000), the candidate with the most popular votes still lost the electoral count.
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 if he does not have an absolute majority. In Mexico, every presidential election will always be a non-incumbent election. 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.
Many South American, Central American, and African nations follow the presidential model.
A third system is the semi-presidential system
, also known as the French
system, in which like the Parliamentary system there is both a president and a prime minister, but unlike the parliamentary system, the president may have significant day-to-day power. When his party controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly, the president can operate closely with the parliament and prime minister, and work towards a common agenda. When the National Assembly is controlled by opponents of the President however, the president can find himself marginalized with the opposition party prime minister exercising most of the power. Though the prime minister remains an appointee of the president, the president must obey the rules of parliament, and select a leader from the house's majority holding party. Thus, sometimes the president and prime minister can be allies, sometimes rivals; the latter situation is known as cohabitation
. Variants of the French semi-presidential system, developed at the beginning of the Fifth Republic
by Charles de Gaulle
, are used in France
, Sri Lanka
and several post-colonial
countries which have emulated the French model.
Only a tiny minority of modern republics do not have a single head of state; examples include:
Presidents 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
, for example.
President for Life is a title assumed by some dictators to ensure that their authority or legitimacy is never questioned.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla appointed himself in 82 BC to an entirely new office, dictator rei publicae constituendae causa, which was functionally identical to the dictatorate rei gerendae causa except that it lacked any set time limit, although Sulla held this office for over two years before he voluntarily abdicated and retired from public life.
The second well-known incident of a leader extending his term indefinitely was Roman dictator Julius Caesar, who made himself "Perpetual Dictator" (commonly mistranslated as 'Dictator-for-life') in 45 BC. His actions would later be mimicked by the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who was appointed "First Consul for life" in 1802.
Ironically, most leaders who proclaim themselves President for Life do not in fact successfully serve a life term. Even so presidents like Alexandre Sabès dit Pétion, Rafael Carrera, Josip Broz Tito and François Duvalier died in office.
The last living person to be officially proclaimed president for life was the late Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan.
Several presidents have ruled until their death, but they have not officially proclaimed themselves as President for Life. For instance, Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania, who ruled until his execution (see Romanian revolution). Archbishop President Makarios became president of Cyprus late in his life (in 1960) and ruled until his death in 1977, having successfully won re-election several times.
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 a list see Official residence
Furthermore in some nations the Presidency enjoys certain symbols of office, such as an official uniform, decorations, a presidential seal, coat of arms, flag and other visible accessories; military honours such as gun salutes, Ruffles and flourishes, and a presidential guard. A common presidential symbol is the presidential sashes worn by Latin American presidents as a symbol of the presidency's continuity, and presenting the sash to the new president.
Presidential chronologies of United Nations member countries
Presidential titles for non heads of state
As head of government
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:
Other executive positions
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
, the presiding member of city council for villages in the U.S. state
, or the municipal presidents
. Perhaps the best known sub-national presidents are the borough presidents
of the Five Boroughs
of New York City
the leader of the National Assembly of Quebec is termed President
Below a President, there can be a number of vice-presidents. This rank does not hold the same power, but power can be transferred in special circumstances. Normally Vice-Presidents hold some power and special responsibilities below that of the President.
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).
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 1836.
is also used as a title in some non-governmental organizations.
The head of a university or non-profit corporation, particularly in the United States of America, is often known as president. In university systems with multiple independent campuses, the relationship between the roles of president and chancellor can become quite complicated. President is also a title in many corporations. In some cases the president acts as chief operating officer under the direction of the chief executive officer. Alternatively, in the U.S., the chairperson 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.
Sources and additional reading
- The powers, functions and functioning of presidents were reviewed by six international experts for Australia's Republic Advisory Committee in 1993. Reports by among others Professor Klaus Von Beyme (on Germany), A. G. Noorani (on India), Jim Duffy (on Ireland) and Sir Ellis Clarke (on Trinidad and Tobago) outline the role of various presidencies. The full report is called An Australian Republic: The Options - The Appendices (ISBN 0-644-32589-5)