The head of government is either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, who often presides over a cabinet, a group of ministers or secretaries who lead executive departments. "Head of government" is often differentiated from "head of state" (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), as they may be separate positions, individuals, or roles depending on the country.
The authority of a head of government, such as a president, chancellor, 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 system 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.
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, 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 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.
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).
- Chancellor (primarily in German-speaking countries)
- Chairman of the Executive Council
- Chief Minister (often subnational)
- Chief Executive (often subnational)
- First Minister (often subnational)
- Premier (from French premier ministre)
- President of the Council of Ministers
- President of the Council of State
- President of the Executive Council
- President of the Government
- Prime minister
- State Counsellor (used exclusively in Myanmar)
- State President (used exclusively in South Africa)
- Albanian: Kryeministër
- Bengali: For the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Pradan Mantri (official); Sarkar Pradhan (lit: Head of the Government, informal); Sangsad Neta (lit: Leader of the parliament; only in parliament)
- Basque: Leader of the Basque Country (Spain): Eusko Jaurlaritzako lehendakaria (literally, 'President of the Basque Government') Leader of Navarre (Spain): Nafarroako Gobernuko lehendakaria (literally, 'President of the Government of Navarra') president, generically: Lehendakari
- Bulgarian: Министър-председател (transliteration: Ministar-predsedatel, literally 'Minister President')
- Catalan: For Andorra: Cap de Govern del Principat d'Andorra (literally: 'Head of Government of the Principality of Andorra') For the Balearic Islands (Spain): President/-a del Govern Balear For Catalonia (Spain): President/-a de la Generalitat de Catalunya (literally: 'President of the Generalitat of Catalonia') For Valencia (Spain): President/-a de la Generalitat Valenciana (literally: 'President of the Valencian Generalitat') The terms 'head of government' and 'prime minister', generically: cap de govern and primer ministre or primera ministra, respectively
- Chinese: For the Premier of the People's Republic of China: 总理 (zǒnglǐ)
- Czech: Předseda vlády (literally: 'Chairman of the Government')
- Danish: Statsminister (literally: 'Minister of the State')
- Dutch: For the head of government of the Netherlands: Minister-President, Eerste Minister (literally, 'First Minister') or Premier For the head of government of Belgium, and as the term 'prime minister' generically: Eerste Minister or Premier
- Estonian: Peaminister
- Finnish: Pääministeri
- Filipino For the head of state and government (President) of the Philippines: Pangulo ng Pilipinas
- French: For France, Belgium and Canada: Prime Minister of France; Prime Minister of Belgium; Prime Minister of Canada: Premier Ministre or Première Ministre, also as the term 'prime minister' generically. For Switzerland: Conseil Fédéral (literally, the 'Federal Council', considered the head of government as a group)
- Galician (Spain): Presidente/-a da Xunta de Galicia (literally, 'President of the Council of Galicia')
- German: For (Germany) and Austria: Chancellor of Germany; Chancellor of Austria: Bundeskanzler (masc.) / Bundeskanzlerin (fem.) For Switzerland: Schweizerischer Bundesrat (literally, the 'Swiss Federal Council', considered the head of government as a group) The term 'head of government,' generically: Regierungschef/-in The term 'prime minister,' generically: Ministerpräsident/-in; or Premierminister/-in historically: Leitender Minister ('Senior Minister')
- Greek: Πρωθυπουργός (transliteration: Prothipourgos)
- Hebrew: ראש הממשלה (transliteration: Rosh HaMemshala)
- Hindi/Hindustani/Urdu: The term 'head of government', generically: शासनप्रमुख (translit. Śāsanapramukha), literally:'Chief of government' The term 'Prime Minister', generically: प्रधानमन्त्री (translit. Pradhānamantrī), literally:'Chief of Ministers/Prime Minister' The other Hindustani term generically used for 'Prime Minister'(now used officially only in Pakistan with Urdu as official language) : वज़ीर-ए-आज़म/وزیر اعظم (translit. Wazīr-ē-Āzam), lit.:'Grand Vizier/Prime Minister' For 'Prime Minister of India' : भारतीय प्रधानमन्त्री/भारत के प्रधानमन्त्री (translit. Bhāratiya Pradhānamantrī/Bhārat Kē Pradhānamantrī), translation:'Indian Prime Minister/Prime Minister of India'(this term is used by the Government of the Union and the State Governments of India, under the umbrella of "Hindi Language"); For 'Prime Minister of Pakistan': وزیر اعظم پاکستان/پاکستان کے وزیر اعظم (translit. Wazīr-ē-Āzam Pākistān/Pākistān Kē Wazīr-ē-Āzam), This is the term used in India and Pakistan under the umbrella of Urdu, the Hindi term being, पाकिस्तानी प्रधानमन्त्री/पाकिस्तान के प्रधानमन्त्री (translit.Pākistānī Pradhānamantrī/Pākistān Kē Pradhānamantrī) Historically, various terms like Pradhānamantrī, Pradhān, Pantapradhān, Sadr-ē-Riyāsat, Sadr, Wazīr-ē-Āzam, Wazīr-ē-Ālā, Mahāmantrī, Wazīr-ē-Khazānā, Pēśwā, Dīwān, Dīwān Sāhib, Dīwān Bahādur, Dīwān Pramukh, Sadr-ul-Maham, Pantapramukh, Ālāmantrī, etc. have been used by various Empires, Kingdoms and Princely States of India as a title for the Prime Minister, some of these titles were also used by the sovereign of various kingdoms.
- Hungarian: Miniszterelnök
- Irish: Leader of Ireland: Taoiseach
- Italian: For the head of government of Italy: Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri della Repubblica Italiana (literally, 'President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic') When referring to other prime ministers: Primo ministro or Prima ministra (masculine and feminine forms; literally 'prime minister') For Switzerland: Consiglio Federale (literally, the 'Federal Council', considered the head of government as a group)
- Japanese: For the head of government of Japan (Prime Minister): 首相 (Shushō)
- Korean: For the President of South Korea: Daetongryung
- Latvian: For the head of government of Latvia: Ministru prezidents (literally, 'Minister President') When referring to other prime ministers: Premjerministrs
- Lithuanian: Ministras pirmininkas
- Malay: In Malaysia, the head of government of the constituent states are expressed in the Malay language (either Ketua Menteri, "chief minister" in the Malaysian states without a monarchy (Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak), or Menteri Besar " great minister" in the sultanates and other monarchic states).
- Maltese: In Malta, the head of government is "Prim Ministru."
- Norwegian: Statsminister
- Polish: For the head of government of Poland: Prezes Rady Ministrów (literally, 'President of the Council of Ministers') For the term 'prime minister' in general: Premier (also, informally, to the head of government of Poland)
- Portuguese: For Brazil: Presidente/-a da República Federativa do Brasil (literally, 'President of the Federal Republic of Brazil') For Portugal and as the term 'prime minister' in general: Primeiro-ministro or Primeira-ministra (masculine and feminine forms, literally 'prime minister' or 'first minister')
- Romanian: Prim-ministru
- Russian: Prem'yer-ministr
- Sinhalese: ශ්රී ලංකා අග්රාමාත්ය (literally: 'Sri Lanka Prime Minister')
- Slovak: Predseda vlády (literally: 'Chairman of the Government')
- Slovene: Predsednik Vlade (literally: 'Chairman of the Government')
- Spanish: For the head of government of Spain: Presidente/-a del gobierno de España (literally: 'Chairman of the Government') When referring to other prime ministers: Primer ministro or Primera Ministra (masculine and feminine forms; literally 'prime minister') The term 'head of government', generically: jefe del gobierno
- Swahili: Sultan
- Swedish: Statsminister ("prime minister", literally: "state minister")
- Thai: For the head of government (Prime Minister) of Thailand: Naykrathmntri
- Turkish: Başbakan
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.
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:
- Mayor of the palace of the Merovingian kingdoms
- Nawab wasir of the Mughal Empire (also governor of Awadh)
- Peshwa of Satara and the Maratha empire
- Shōgun in feudal Japan
- Sultan in the original case of the Seljuk Turks who made the caliphs of Baghdad their puppets; later both styles were often used for absolute rulers in Nepal
In some models the head of state and head of government are one and the same. These include:
- President (executive)
- An absolute monarch reigning and ruling without a separate principal minister
- Chief magistrate
- Führer (used in Nazi Germany for Adolf Hitler)
- Supreme leader
- A State Governor in the United States (subnational executives)
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.
Parliamentary heads of government
In parliamentary systems, government functions along the following lines:
- The head of government — usually the leader of the majority party or coalition — forms the government, which is answerable to parliament;
- Full answerability of government to parliament is achieved through The ability of parliament to pass a vote of no confidence. The ability to vote down legislative proposals of the government. Control over or ability to vote down fiscal measures and the budget (or supply); a government is powerless without control of the state finances. In a bicameral system, it is often the so-called lower house, e.g. the British House of Commons that exercises the major elements of control and oversight; in some others, e.g. Australia and Italy, the government is constitutionally or by convention answerable to both chambers/Houses of Parliament.
All of these requirements directly impact the Head of government's role. Consequently, they often play a 'day to day' role in parliament, answering questions and defending the government on the 'floor of the House', while in semi-presidential systems they may not be required to play as much of a role in the functioning of parliament.
In many countries, the Head of government is commissioned by the Head of state to form a government, on the basis of the strength of party support in the lower house, in some other states directly elected by parliament. Many parliamentary systems require ministers to serve in parliament, while others ban ministers from sitting in parliament; they must resign on becoming ministers.
Heads of government are typically removed from power in a parliamentary system by
- Resignation, following: Defeat in a general election. Defeat in a leadership vote at their party caucus, to be replaced by another member of the same party. Defeat in a parliamentary vote on a major issue, e.g., loss of supply, loss of confidence. (In such cases, a head of government may seek a parliamentary dissolution from the Head of state and attempt to regain support by popular vote.)
- Dismissal — some constitutions allow a Head of state (or their designated representative, as is the case in some Commonwealth countries) to dismiss a Head of government, though its use can be controversial, as occurred in 1975 when then Australian Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the Australian Constitutional Crisis.
- Death — in this case, the deputy Head of government typically acts as the head of government until a new head of government is appointed.
Constitutions differ in the range and scope of powers granted to the head of government. Some older constitutions; for example, Australia's 1900 text, and Belgium's 1830 text; do not mention their prime ministerial offices at all, the offices became a de facto political reality without a formal constitutional status. Some constitutions make a Prime Minister primus inter pares (first among equals) and that remains the practical reality for the Prime Minister of Belgium and the Prime Minister of Finland. Other states however, make their head of government a central and dominant figure within the cabinet system; Ireland's Taoiseach, for example, alone can decide when to seek a parliamentary dissolution, in contrast to other countries where this is a cabinet decision, with the Prime Minister just one member voting on the suggestion. In Israel, while the Government is nominally a collegiate body with a primus inter pares role for the Prime Minister, the Israeli Prime Minister the dominant figure in the executive branch in practice. The Prime Minister of Sweden, under the 1974 Instrument of Government, is a constitutional office with all key executive powers at his disposal; either directly, or indirectly through the collegial Government; whose members are all appointed and dismissed at the Prime Minister's sole discretion.
Under the unwritten British constitution, the Prime Minister's role has evolved, based often on the individual's personal appeal and strength of character, as contrasted between, for example, Winston Churchill as against Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher as against John Major. It is alleged that the increased personalisation of leadership in a number of states has led to heads of government becoming themselves "semi-presidential" figures, due in part to media coverage of politics that focuses on the leader and his or her mandate, rather than on parliament; and to the increasing centralisation of power in the hands of the head of government. Such allegations have been made against two recent British Prime ministers; Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. They were also made against Italian prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi, Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Federal Chancellor of West Germany (later all of Germany), Helmut Kohl, when in power.
The Head of government is often provided with an official residence, often in the same fashion as heads of state often are. The name of the residence is often used as a metonym or alternate title for 'the government' when the office is politically the highest, e.g. in the UK "Downing Street announced today…"
Well-known official residences of heads of government include:
- 10 Downing Street in London — Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (who also has a country residence, Chequers)
- Seri Perdana in Putrajaya — Prime Minister of Malaysia
- 7, Lok Kalyan Marg (formerly 7, Race Course Road) in New Delhi — Prime Minister of India
- Catshuis — Prime Minister of the Netherlands
- Ballhausplatz in Vienna — Chancellor of Austria
- 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa — Prime Minister of Canada (who also has a country residence, Harrington Lake)
- Zhongnanhai in Beijing — Premier of the People's Republic of China
- Kantei in Tokyo — Prime Minister of Japan
- Kramář's Villa in Prague — Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
- Palazzo Chigi in Rome — President of the Council of Ministers of Italy
- The Lodge in Canberra (with an additional residence, Kirribilli House, in Sydney) — Prime Minister of Australia
- Hôtel Matignon in Paris— Prime Minister of France
- Federal Chancellery in Berlin — Chancellor of Germany
- The Lambermont in Brussels — Prime Minister of Belgium
- Palacio de la Moncloa in Madrid — President of the Government of Spain
- Premier House in Wellington — Prime Minister of New Zealand
- Kesäranta in Helsinki — Prime Minister of Finland
- Sager House in Stockholm — Prime Minister of Sweden (who also has a country residence, Harpsund)
- Daehwa Palace in Seoul and Sejong Mission in Sejong City — Prime Minister of South Korea
Similarly, heads of government of (con)federal entities below the level of the sovereign state (often without an actual head of state, at least under international law) may also be given an official residence, sometimes used as an opportunity to display aspirations of statehood:
- Hotel Errera in Brussels — Minister-President of the Flemish community and region
- Bavarian State Chancellery – Minister-President of the State of Bavaria
- Élysette in Namur — Minister-President of the Walloon Region
- Bute House, Edinburgh; First Minister of Scotland
- Hesse State Chancellery, Wiesbaden; Minister-President of the State of Hesse
- Kazan Kremlin, Kazan – President of Tatarstan
- Government House, Hong Kong – Chief Executive of Hong Kong
- Macau Government Headquarters – Chief Executive of Macau
- Red City Hall – Governing Mayor of Berlin
Usually, the residence of the heads of government is not as prestigious and grand as that of the head of state, even if the head of state only performs ceremonial duties. Even the formal representative of the head of state, such as a governor-general, may well be housed in a grander, palace-type residence. However, this is not the case when both positions are combined into one:
- The White House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) in Washington, D.C. — President of the United States of America
- Istana Nurul Iman in Bandar Seri Begawan — Sultan of Brunei
- Palácio da Alvorada in Brasília — President of the Federative Republic of Brazil
As of mid-2011:
- World's longest serving unelected head of government: Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bahrain since 1971.
- World's longest serving monarchical head of government: Tage Erlander, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1946 to 1969 (23 years, 3 days).
- World's longest serving republican head of government: Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990 (31 years, 178 days).