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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

What Does A Head of State Do?

I mentioned in my prior post that most democracies divide the head of state and head of government roles. Why do they do that? What does the head of state do?

The head of state could be a religious figure. Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor Naruhito of Japan are examples. The head of government (a partisan party leader) cannot be the head of a church. In these nations, there is no separation of church and state, but there is separation of church and government.

The head of state could be a secular figure who performs purely ceremonial tasks. The advantage of this is that some events can be led by someone non-partisan. This could be seen as making these occasions more dignified or politically neutral, or denies to a party leader the ability to exploit those events. Some nations elect a president for this role, in some nations Parliament picks the head of state, some in the Commonwealth simply use the Queen (or her designate the Governor-General), and others in Europe have constitutional monarchies. 

The head of state could possess some extraordinary reserve powers that are seen as too dangerous to give to a Prime Minister. The most obvious example is when no party wins a majority in Parliament after an election. Somebody else has to get involved to broker what happens next (unless the political conventions are strong) and the Prime Minister has a conflict-of-interest. Heads of state often take the lead. There could be other situations, say the declaration of a national emergency, that are comparable.

Some heads of state (mainly the French President) are close to the American model. France has a Prime Minister, but the President wields most of the power. My understanding is that De Gaulle, who basically wrote the current French Constitution, did not want to get involved in political details and hence set up a weak division between the President and the PM, but I'm not sure that is correct.

I think that this is all interesting in general, but consider how what will occur today would look different in a head of state model. Suppose a Queen or the ceremonial president presided over the counting of the electoral votes. Nobody then would say that this person should or could do anything about the substance of that count. (It's like when the Chief Justice presides over a presidential trial in the Senate.) Because the presiding officers are partisan elected officials, though, there can be such an expectation (mistaken though it is). There are other purely ceremonial occasions where we might feel better about having a non-partisan person involved.

More on this tomorrow.  

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on January 6, 2021 at 08:40 AM | Permalink


Important. One may illustrate, the pure (almost) ceremonial power or role of the head of state (as president) through the Israeli regime. That is classic one. All powers are vested in the government, while the president, bears (basically) only ceremonial or alike powers. Not really functional.

The purpose indeed as stated in the post, is to manifest unity, over political division.

One may read the:

"Basic Law: The President of the State" article 11, as follows:

11. Functions and powers

a. The President of the State -

shall sign every Law, other than a Law relating to its powers;

shall carry out the functions assigned to him by Basic Law: The Government;

shall receive from the Government a report on its meetings;

shall accredit the diplomatic representatives of the State, shall receive the credentials of diplomatic representatives sent to Israel by foreign states, shall empower the consular representatives of the State and shall confirm the appointments of consular representatives sent to Israel by foreign states;

shall sign such conventions with foreign states as have been ratified by the Knesset;

shall carry out every function assigned to him by Law in connection with the appointment and removal from office of judges and other office-holder's.

b. The President of the State shall have power to pardon offenders and to lighten penalties by the reduction or commutation thereof.

c. The President of the State shall carry out every other function and have every other power assigned to him by Law.



P.S: Just worth noting, that for purpose of international immunity, head of state, and prime minister, both enjoy immunity typically ( of customary international law).


Posted by: El roam | Jan 6, 2021 10:11:08 AM

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