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Head of State (German: Staatsoberhaupt), or Chief of State (French: Chef d'État), is a term used in constitutional law, international law, political science, and diplomatic protocol when referring to the official who holds the highest ranked position in a sovereign state and has the vested or implied powers to act as the chief public representative of a state. Heads of state in most countries are natural persons holding an office; however, in four United Nations member states the head of state position is held by a body of persons: the Federal Council of Switzerland, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Co-Princes of Andorra and the Captains Regent of San Marino.
The term head of state is often used differentiating it from the term head of government, 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. For instance, in parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Federal Republic of Germany; the Monarch and the President are recognized as their respective heads of state, while the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are recognized as the heads of government. However in republics with a presidential system, as in the United States and the Federative Republic of Brazil, their presidents are recognized as being both heads of state and heads of government. The latter is also generally true in absolute monarchies and sometimes as well in other forms of authoritarian government.
The role of the head of state generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of state in the country's constitution and laws. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations operates under the presumption that the head of a diplomatic mission (i.e. ambassador or nuncio) of the sending state is accredited to the head of state of the receiving state. In nation states the head of state is often thought of as the official "leader" of the nation.
Charles de Gaulle described the role he envisaged for the French presidency before he wrote the modern French constitution, stating the head of state should embody "the spirit of the nation" for the nation itself and the world: "a certain idea about France" (French: une certaine idée de la France). Today, many countries expect their head of state to embody national values in a similar fashion.
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In protocolary terms, states are distinguished as monarchy or republic depending on the style (and usually mode of accession, see below) of their head of state, a typical constitutional provision, but as such this is not defining for the actual political system, which often evolves significantly, or can remain unaltered in other respects despite a transition from monarchy to republic (or, rarer, vice versa).
Different state constitutions (fundamental laws) establish different political systems, but four major types of heads of state can be distinguished:
The same role in a federal constituent and a dependent territory is fulfilled by the corresponding office equivalent to that of a head of state. For example, in each Canadian province the role is fulfilled by the Lieutenant Governor, whereas in most British Overseas Territories the powers and duties are performed by the Governor. The same applies to Australian states, Indian states, etc. Hong Kong's constitutional document, the Basic Law, for example, specifies the Chief Executive as the head of the special administrative region, in addition to his 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.
In parliamentary systems the head of state may be merely the nominal chief executive officer, heading the executive branch of the state, and possessing executive power. In reality, however, following a process of constitutional evolution, powers are usually only exercised by direction of a cabinet, presided over by a head of government who is answerable to the legislature. This accountability and legitimacy requires that someone be chosen who has a majority support in the legislature (or, at least, not a majority opposition - a subtle but important difference). It also gives the legislature the right to vote down the head of government and his cabinet, forcing it either to resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution. The excutive branch is thus said to be responsible (or answerable) to the legislature, with the head of government and cabinet in turn accepting constitutional responsibility for offering constitutional advice to the head of state.
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 (joint monarchs Mary II and William III); likewise, Edward VIII's abdication required the approval of the parliaments in each of the six independent realms at the time who shared the same monarch. In monarchies with a written constitution, the position of monarch is a creature of the constitution and could quite properly be abolished through a democratic procedure of constitutional amendment, although there are often 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, but 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 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 parliamentarian system, but a de jure "presidential" system.
Some Commonwealth parliamentary systems combine a body of written constitutional law, unwritten constitutional precedent, Orders in Council, letters patent, etc. that may give a head of state or their representative additional powers in unexpected circumstances (such as the dismissal of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.)
Other 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 Léopold 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 back on the throne, but because of the ongoing controversy he ultimately abdicated.)
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 styles 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, also known as the "Constitution of the State 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 militarist absolute monarchy with a form of liberal democracy in a parliamentary system. The Constitution explicitly vests all executive powers in the Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister (Articles 65 & 66) and responsible to the National Diet (articles 67 & 69). The Emperor — defined in the Constitution as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" (Article 1) and generally recognized throughout the world as the Japanese head of state — is a ceremonial figurehead with no independent discretionary powers related to the governance of Japan.
Since the passage of the 1974 Instrument of Government, the Swedish monarch no longer has many of the standard parliamentary system head of state functions that had previously belonged to him or her, as was the case in the preceding 1809 Instrument of Government. Nowadays, the Speaker of the Riksdag appoints (following a vote in the Riksdag) the Prime Minister and terminates his commission following a vote of no confidence or voluntary resignation. Cabinet members are appointed and dismissed at the sole discretion of the Prime Minister. Executive authority is vested in the Government, of which the King is not a member. Laws and ordinances are promulgated by two cabinet members in unison signing "On Behalf of the Government". The Government — not the King — is the high contracting party with respect to international treaties. The remaining official functions of the King, 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.
In contrast, the only contact the President of Ireland has with the Irish government is through a formal briefing session given by the Taoiseach (head of government) to the President. However, he or she has no access to documentation and all access to ministers goes through the Department of the Taoiseach. The President does however hold limited reserve powers, such as referring a bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality, which are used under the president's discretion.
Semi-presidential systems combine features of presidential and parliamentary systems, notably a requirement that the government be answerable to both the president and the legislature. The constitution of the Fifth French Republic provides for a prime minister who is chosen by the president, but who nevertheless must be able to gain support in 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 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.
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 independent of the legislature.
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 the suitability of the individual for office, not a judgement on them when appointed, and does not involve the power to reject or approve proposed cabinet members en bloc, so it is not accountability in the sense understood in a parliamentary system.
Presidential systems are a notable feature of constitutions in the Americas, including those of the Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela; this is generally attributed to the strong influence of the United States in the region, and as the United States Constitution served as an inspiration and model for the 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 (i.e., 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.
In the 1870s in the United States, in the aftermath of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and his near-removal from office, it was speculated that the United States, too, would move from a presidential system to a semi-presidential or even parliamentary one, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives becoming the real center of government as a quasi-prime minister. This did not happen and the presidency, having been damaged by three late nineteenth and early twentieth century assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) and one impeachment (Johnson), reasserted its political dominance by the early twentieth century through such figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
Since real political power belongs to the sole legal party, in certain states under Marxist constitutions of the constitutionally socialist state type inspired by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its constitutive Soviet republics, there was no formal office of head of state, but rather the leader of the legislative branch was considered to be the closest common equivalent of a head of state as a natural person. In the Soviet Union this position carried such titles as Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR; Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet; and in the case of the Soviet Russia Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets (pre-1922), and Chairman of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian SFSR (1956–1966). This position may or may not have been held by the de facto Soviet leader at the moment. For example, Nikita Khrushchev never headed the Supreme Soviet but was First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (party leader) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers (head of government).
This may even lead to an institutional variability, as in North Korea, where, after the presidency of party leader Kim Il-Sung, the office was vacant for years, the late president being granted the posthumous title (akin to some ancient Far Eastern traditions to give posthumous names and titles to royalty) of "Eternal President" (while all substantive power, as party leader, itself not formally created for four years, was inherited by his son Kim Jong Il, initially without any formal office) until it was formally replaced on 5 September 1998, for ceremonial purposes, by the office of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, while the party leader's post as 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.
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 Liechtenstein in 2003 gave its head of state, the Reigning Prince, constitutional powers that included a veto over legislation and power to dismiss the head of government and cabinet. It could be argued that the strengthening of the Prince's powers, vis-a-vis the Landtag (legislature), has moved Liechtenstein into the semi-presidential category. Similarly the original powers given to the 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, recognized as the head of state. The offices of President of Nauru and President of Botswana are similar in this respect to the South African presidency.
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.
Often depending on which constitutional category (above) a head of state belongs to, they may have some or all of the roles listed below, and various other ones.
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".
In many countries, official portraits of the head of state can be found in government offices, courts of law, even airports, libraries, and other public buildings. The idea, sometimes regulated by law, is to use these portraits to make the public aware of the symbolic connection to the government, a practice that dates back to medieval times. Sometimes this practice is taken to excess, and the head of state becomes the principal symbol of the nation, resulting in the emergence of a 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 iconic presences, especially of monarchs, are on coins, stamps and banknotes; more discreet variations see them represented by a mention and/or signature. Furthermore, various institutions, monuments and the like, are named for current or previous heads of state, such as streets and squares, schools, charitable and other organizations; 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 visit, and the programme may feature playing of the national anthems by a military band, inspection of military troops, official exchange of gifts, and attending a state dinner at the official residence of the host.
At home, heads of state are expected to render luster to various occasions by their presence, such as by attending artistic or sports performances or competitions (often in a theatrical honor box, on a platform, on the front row, at the honours table, etc.), expositions, national day celebrations, military parades and war remembrances, prominent funerals, visiting different parts of the country and people from different walks of life, and at times performing symbolic acts such as cutting a ribbon, groundbreaking, ship christening, laying the first stone, and so on. 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) states 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.
As the potential for such invitations is enormous, such duties are often in part delegated to such persons as a spouse, a head of government or a cabinet minister or in other cases (possibly as a message, for instance, to distance themselves without rendering offense) 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 head of government), discreetly approving agenda and speeches, especially where the constitution (or customary law) assumes all political responsibility by granting the crown inviolability (in fact also imposing political emasculation) as in 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.
The head of state accredits (i.e. formally validates) his or her country's ambassadors (or rarer equivalent diplomatic mission chiefs, such as high commissioner or papal nuncio) through sending formal a Letter of Credence to other heads of state and, conversely, receives the letters of their foreign counterparts. 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 2012) 187 sovereign states has ratified.
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.
In Canada, these head of state powers belong to the Monarch as part of the Royal Prerogative, but the Governor General has been permitted to exercise them since 1947 and has done so since the 1970s.
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, Germany, 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.
The head of state usually appoints most or all the key officials in the government, including the head of government and other cabinet ministers, key judicial figures; and all major office holders in the civil service, foreign service and 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 a British monarch unilaterally selected the Prime Minister was in 1963, when Queen Elizabeth II appointed Alec Douglas-Home on the advice of outgoing Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. In Canada, a similar situation took place in 1925 wherein Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy appointed Arthur Meighen after William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to resign the premiership (known as the King-Byng Affair). In 1975, Governor-General of Australia Sir John Kerr appointed Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister after having dismissed his predecessor Gough Whitlam.
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.
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. 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. 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 Sweden, under the Instrument of Government of 1974, the 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.
A head of state is often, by virtue of holding the highest executive powers, explicitly designated as the commander-in-chief of that nation's armed forces, holding the highest office in all military 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 maneuvers 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.
In military dictatorships, or governments which have arisen from coups d'état, the position of commander-in-chief is obvious, as all authority in such a government derives from the application of military force; occasionally a power vacuum created by war is filled by a head of state stepping beyond his or her normal constitutional role, as King Albert I of Belgium did during World War I. In these and in revolutionary regimes, the head of state, and often executive ministers whose offices are legally civilian, will frequently appear in military uniform.
Some countries designates officials other than the head of state with command-in-chief powers.
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 Opening of Parliament with the Speech from the Throne in Britain. Even in presidential systems the head of state often formally reports to the legislature on the present national status, e.g. the State of the Union address in the United States of America.
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.
In some parliamentary systems, the head of state retains certain powers in relation to bills to be exercised at his or her discretion. 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 he or she is also chief executive, he or she can thus politically control the necessary executive measures without which a proclaimed law can remain dead letter, sometimes for years or even forever.
A head of state is often empowered to summon and dissolve the country's legislature. In most parliamentary systems, this is often done on the advice of the head of government. In some parliamentary systems, and in some presidential systems, however, the head of state may do so on their own initiative. Some states have fixed term legislatures, with no option of bringing forward elections (e.g. Article II, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution). 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.
Various heads of state use a multitude of different styles and titles, often with many variations in content under diverse constitutions, even in a given state. In numerous cases, two or more of the following peculiar types apply, not counting the primary duo monarchy-republic. Although many constitutions (single or multiple documents), particularly from the 19th century and earlier make no explicit mention of a head of state in the generic sense of several contemporary international treaties, the officeholders corresponding to this position are recognized as such by other countries.
In a monarchy, the monarch is generally understood to be the head of state. Niccolò Machiavelli used Prince (Italian: Principe) as a generic term for the ruler, similar to contemporary usage of head of state, in his classical treatise The Prince, originally published in 1532: in fact that particular literary genre it belongs to is known as Mirrors for princes. Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan used the term Sovereign. In Europe the role of a monarchs has gradually transitioned from that of a sovereign ruler — in the sense of Divine Right of Kings as articulated by Jean Bodin, Absolutism and the "L'etat c'est moi"—to that of a constitutional monarch; parallel with the conceptual evolution of sovereignty from merely the personal rule of a single person, to Westphalian sovereignty (Peace of Westphalia ending both the Thirty Years' War & Eighty Years' War) and popular sovereignty as in consent of the governed; as shown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England & Scotland, the French Revolution in 1789, and the German Revolution of 1918–1919. The monarchies who survived through this era were the ones who were willing to subject themselves to constitutional limitations. Titles commonly used by monarchs are King/Queen or Emperor/Empress, but also many other; e.g. Grand Duke, Prince, Emir and Sultan.
In a republic, the head of state nowadays usually bears the title of President, and usually their permanent constitutions provide for election, but many have or had other titles and even specific constitutional positions and some have used simply "head of state" as their only 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.
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 vice-president, the chief of government, the legislature or its presiding officer. In a monarchy, this is usually a regent or collegial regency (council). For example, in the United States the Vice-President acts when the President is incapacitated, and in the United Kingdom the Queen's powers may be delegated to Counselors of State when she is abroad or unavailable.
In some nations, such as Andorra and New Zealand, there is no resident head of state, and a local representative is appointed. In the Commonwealth realms, other than the United Kingdom, a governor-general is appointed by the sovereign, on the advice of the relevant prime minister, as a representative and to exercise almost all the royal prerogative according to established constitutional authority, even when the sovereign is present in the country concerned (though this does not necessarily mean an abdication of the sovereign's powers and privileges as prescribed by the local constitution). At the United Nations, governors-general are accorded the status of head of state. There is an ongoing debate in Australia and, to a lesser extent, in Canada as to which officeholder—the monarch, the local viceregal representative, or both—can be considered the head of state. In the case of Andorra, two co-princes act as the principality's heads of state; one is also simultaneously the President of France, residing in France, and the other is the Bishop of Urgell, residing in Spain. Each co-prince is represented in Andorra by a delegate, though these persons hold no formal title.
As a colony or other dependent state or territory lacks the authority to vest in a true head of state of its own, it either has no comparable office, simply receiving those roles exercised by the paramount powers (in person or, most of the time, through an appointed representative, often styled governor or lieutenant-governor, but also various other titles, on the Cook Islands even simply King/Queen's Representative) or has one, such as a formerly sovereign dynasty, but under a form of metropolitan guardianship, such as protection, vassal or tributary status.
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 favor 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).
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 practicing 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.
In Roman Catholicism, the Pope was once Sovereign Pontiff and head of state, first, of the politically important Papal States. After Italian unification, the Pope remains head of state of Vatican City.
During the early period of Islam, caliphs were spiritual and temporal absolute successors of the Prophet Mohammed, but gradually lost political power. Various political Muslim leaders since have styled themselves Caliph and served as dynastic heads of state, sometimes in addition to another title, such as the Ottoman Sultan. Historically, some theocratic Islamic states known as imamates have been led by imams as head of state, such as in what is now Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
In the modern Islamic Republic of Iran the rahbar (Supreme Leader, at present Ali Khamenei) serves as head of state. The Aga Khans, a unique dynasty of temporal/religious leadership, leading an offshoot of Shia Islam in Central and South Asia, once ranking among British India's princely states, continue to the present day.
In Hinduism, certain dynasties adopted a title expressing their positions as "servant" of a patron deity of the state, but in the sense of a viceroy under an absentee god-king, ruling "in the name of" the patron god(ess), such as Patmanabha Dasa (servant of Vishnu) in the case of the Maharaja of Travancore.
Outer Mongolia, the former homeland of the imperial dynasty of Genghis Khan, was another lamaist theocracy from 1585, using various styles, such as tulku. The establishment of the Communist Mongolian People's Republic replaced this regime in 1924.
A collective head of state can exist in republics (internal complexity): e.g. nominal triumvirates; the Directoire; the seven-member Swiss Federal Council, where each member acts in turn as ceremonial chief of state); Bosnia and Herzegovina (three member presidium, from three different nations); San Marino (two "Captains-regent"), which maintains the tradition of Italian medieval republics, where there always was an even number of consuls.
In condominiums, sovereignty is shared between two external powers: e.g. Andorra (president of France and bishop of Urgell, Spain, co-princes), and the former Anglo-French New Hebrides (each nation's head of state was represented by a high commissioner).
In the Roman Republic there were two heads of state, styled Consul, both of whom alternated months of authority during their year in office, similarly there was an even number of supreme magistrates in the Italic republics of Ancient Age. In the Athenian Republic there were nine supreme magistrates, styled archons. In Carthage there were two supreme magistrates, styled kings or suffetes (judges). In ancient Sparta there were two hereditary kings, belonging to two different dynasties.
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. Head of the Commonwealth (held by the British crown, but not legally reserved for it) or 'Head of the Arab Union' (14 February - 14 July 1958, held by the Hashemite King of Iraq, during its short-lived Federation with Jordan, its Hashemite sister-realm).
Though "president" and various monarchic titles are most commonly used for heads of state, in some nationalistic regimes (usually republics), the leader adopts, formally or de facto, a unique style simply meaning "leader" in the national language, such as Nazi Germany's single party chief and head of state and government, Adolf Hitler Führer (see that article for equivalents).
In 1959, when former British crown colony Singapore gained self-government, it adopted the Malay style Yang di-Pertuan Negara (literally means "head of state" in Malay) for its governor (the actual head of state remained the British monarch). The second and last incumbent of the office, Yusof bin Ishak, kept the style at the 31 August 1963 unilateral declaration of independence and after the 16 September 1963 accession to Malaysia as a state (so now as a constitutive part of the federation, a non-sovereign level). After expulsion from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, Singapore became a sovereign Commonwealth republic and installed Yusof bin Ishak as its first President.
In 1959 after the Resignation of Vice President of Indonesia Mohammad Hatta, President Sukarno proclaimed himself president for life (Presiden Seumur Hidup Panglima Tertinggi), Panglima Malay for Commander (or a Military head figure) Tertinggi meaning Highest roughly translated to English as Supreme Commander of the Revolution. He was praised as Paduka Yang Mulia, a Malay honorific title originally given to Kings. Due to Sukarno's noble descent he awarded himself titles in that fashion. After Vice-President Mohammad Hatta resigned as Vice President the title of Vice President was abolished, and the Title of Vice President, Prime Minister and Head of Cabinet were also claimed by President Sukarno Himself
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 Cultural Revolution, following the downfall of Liu Shaoqi, who was Chairman of the People's Republic of China, no successor was named, so the duties of the head of state were transferred collectively to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. This situation was later changed: the Head of State of the PRC is now the President of the People's Republic of China.
In North Korea, Kim Il-sung was named "eternal president" following his death and the presidency was abolished. As a result, the duties of the head of state are constitutionally delegated to the Supreme People's Assembly whose chairman is "Head of State for foreign affairs" and performs some of the roles of a Head of State, such as accrediting foreign ambassadors. However, the symbolic role of a Head of State is generally performed by Kim Jong-un, who as the leader of the party and military, is the most powerful person in North Korea.
There is debate as to whether Samoa is/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. Thus in March 1979 Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who kept absolute power (until his overthrow in 2011 referred to as "Guide of the Revolution"), after ten years as combined Head of State and Head of government of the Libyan Jamahiriya ("state of the masses"), styled Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, formally transferred both qualities to the General secretaries of the General People's Congress (comparable to a Speaker) respectively to a Prime Minister, in political reality both were his creatures.
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 Cameroon (Cameroun, a former French colony), the first President, Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo, was at first not styled président but 'merely' known as Chef d'état (literal French for 'Chief of State') until 5 May 1960; in Uganda, military coup leader since 25 January 1971 Idi Amin was formally styled military head of State till 21 February 1971, only from then on regular (but unconstitutional, not elected) President.
In certain cases a special style is needed to accommodate imperfect statehood, e.g. the title Sardar-i-Riyasat was used in Kashmir after its accession to India, and PLO-leader Yasser Arafat was styled the first "President of the Palestinian National Authority" in 1994.
The position of head of state can be established in different ways, and with different sources of legitimacy.
Power can come from force, but formal legitimacy is often established, even if only by fictitious claims of continuity (e.g., a forged claim of descent from a previous dynasty). There have been cases of sovereignty granted by deliberate act, even when accompanied by laws of succession (as may be the case in a dynastic split).[clarification needed] Such grants of sovereignty are usually forced, as is common with self-determination granted after nationalist revolts. This occurred with the last Attalid king of Hellenistic Pergamon, who by testament left his realm to Rome to avoid a disastrous conquest.
Under a theocracy, perceived divine status translated into earthly authority under divine law This can take the form of supreme divine authority above the state's, granting a tool for political influence to a priesthood. In this way, the Amun priesthood reversed the reforms of Pharaoh Akhenaten after his death. The division of theocratic power can be disputed, as happened between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor in the Investiture conflict when the temporal power sought to control key clergy nominations in order to guarantee popular support, and thereby his own legitamcy, by incorporating the formal ceremony of unction during coronation.
Individual heads of state may acquire their position by virtue of a constitution.
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 chosing successor by other means than by birth.
In some monarchies there may be liberty for the incumbent, or some body convening after his or her demise, to choose from eligible members of the ruling house, often limited to 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.
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 electors (such as the Electoral College in the United States), or as an exclusive prerogative. Exclusive prerogative allows the heads of states of constituent monarchies of a federation to choose the head of state for the federation among themselves, as in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. The Pope, head of state of Vatican City, is chosen by previously appointed cardinals under 80 years of age from among themselves in a papal conclave.
A head of state may seize power by force or revolution. This is not the same as the use of force to maintain power, as is practiced by authoritarian or totalitarian rulers. Dictators often use democratic titles, though some proclaim themselves monarchs. Examples of the latter include Emperor Napoleon III of France and King Zog of Albania. In Spain, general Francisco Franco adopted the formal title Jefe del Estado, or Chief of State, and established himself as regent for a vacant monarchy. Uganda's Idi Amin was one of several who named themselves President for Life.
A foreign power can establishing a branch of their own dynasty, or one friendly to their interests. This was the outcome of the Russo-Swedish War from 1741 to 1743 where the Russian Empress made the imposition of her relative Adolf Frederick as the heir to the Swedish Throne, to succeed Frederick I who lacked legitimate issue, as a peace condition.
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 his or her 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 he or she violates such provisions as an established religion mandatory for the monarch. By similar procedure, an original mandate may be declared invalid.
Serious violations of certain fundamental treaty obligations is sometimes considered a valid reason for the relevant international community to depose a head of state, as the United Nations Security Council or certain alliances may do.
A monarch may retain his style and certain prerogatives after abdication, as did King Leopold III of Belgium, who left the throne to his son after winning a referendum which allowed him to retain a full royal household deprived him of a constitutional or representative role. 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 courtesy for the rest of their lives. Hence, even after Constantine II ceased to be King of the Hellenes, it is still common to refer to the deposed king and his family as if they were still on the throne, as many European royal courts and households do in guest lists at royal weddings, as in Sweden in 2010, Britain in 2011 and Luxembourg in 2012. The Republic of Greece oppose the right of their deposed monarch and former royal family members to be referred to by their former titles or bearing a surname indicating royal status, and has enacted legislation which hinder acquisition of 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.
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.
Former Presidents of the United States, while holding no political powers per se, sometimes continue to exert influence in national and world affairs.
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