A lot of people become confused when the term Prime Minister (P.M.) is mentioned as a comparison with a president. They are similar positions in a lot of ways but there are also some important key differences as well. Here are the key differences between the 2 roles in a nation’s affairs.
The Prime Minister
The essential thing to understand about the role of Prime Minister is that this person is the head of the government and never the head of the state. This person is in charge of the cabinet which is a group of ministers that are in charge of different departments of the government. In the United Kingdom the P.M. is presented with a red box of papers everyday which contains the daily government business. The Queen is also presented with these papers as well. The difference is that the P.M. has the power to accept, reject or make alterations to these papers. When an Act of Parliament is passed by parliament the Queen must sign the Act of Parliament into law. This is based upon an adage which says ‘’The monarch reigns, but parliament rules’’.
The Queen is the head of state of the United Kingdom and a number of British Commonwealth countries, including my own which is Australia. We have a Governor-General who is appointed by parliament and approved by the Queen who acts as the Queen’s representative in Australia. This role is mostly ceremonial and mimics closely the role which the Queen plays in the U.K. By contrast the P.M.is the head of the government and sits in parliament which is a very important difference between that of a president and a P.M.
A president is always the head of state of the nation and never sits in a legislature except on special occasions. These occasions might include a declaration of war, an opening of parliament or a state of the union address. Not all presidents hold executive power. Germany, Italy, India and Ireland all have presidents whose role is almost purely ceremonial. Eamon de Valera wrote the role of president into the Irish constitution and when asked why he did so he said that he wanted an easy job after he stopped being in politics. (For the record he got his wish).
One of the ways the United States is such an influential country is that it formed the template for republican government from which a lot of the world has copied it. A U.S. president has veto power over congress, chairs cabinet meetings and holds strong executive powers. They can be described as elected monarchs because they hold enormous power while combining the prestige of being the head of state. A P.M. on the other hand is always second in line after the Queen or a Governor-General when another head of state pays a state visit. P.M.s are expected to return to go back to work after their term has finished or just slip into retirement. Such is the prestige of the presidency in the United States that this is unthinkable.
Which Countries Have a Prime Minister vs. a President?
Some countries such as Italy, France and Russia have both a P.M.and a president. Italy has a powerful P.M. while in Russia and France the position of P.M. is still important but it has nothing like the importance and prestige of the presidency in these respective countries. So the situation becomes more complicated the more thoroughly you look into it. Ever since Sir Robert Walpole became the P.M. of Great Britain in 1721 this office has been copied throughout the world as has the role of president since George Washington became president of the United States in 1789. Only the countries with a communist heritage such as China or North Korea seem exempt from the trend of either having a president, monarch or a prime minister. The influence of the 18th century English speaking world is still enormous right down to the present day.