Deputy prime minister, a giant loophole around democracy?

Lets assume a rich but unpopular person wants to become prime minister. They work out a deal with a young upstart personable politician and a party, they will fund them millions/billions as long as once elected they are made acting deputy prime minister and the elected PM takes a long expensive vacation for their entire term.

Now of course this would be political suicide by both the party and politician, but what if neither care. Isn’t this basically a giant loophole in democracy?

Can the US president appoint a deputy acting president?

I think you might be making some incorrect assumptions. In most places, PM is not an elected position, and the position doesn’t have a term as such. It’s typically a requirement that the PM already be an elected official of some kind, like a member of Parliament.

Given your question, I have to assume you are not a US resident, but I apologize if this answer is too basic.

The US already has a “deputy acting president.” S/He’s called the Vice President and s/he is elected at the same time as the President with a single vote – that is you vote for the pair together. Each party’s candidate pretty much can select the Vice President to run with. There is some conjecture that McCain wanted to select Lieberman (a former Democrat technically an independent at the time but who sided with Republicans on many things later in the Senate) and it was nixed by the party, but we don’t know that. On the other hand, McCain’s actual pick of Sarah Palin must go some distance in supporting the idea that the candidate has a lot of leeway in his pick.

If the President resigns or otherwise leaves office the VP would become President. The VP is acting President if the President is temporarily unable to perform. There are various rules about this covered in the Constitutional Amendments.

If the VP leaves office before the term is up, the President can pick a successor, but that person must be ratified by both houses of Congress so not just anyone could be brought in that way.

Gerald Ford was named the new VP by Nixon after Agnew resigned. He then became President when Nixon resigned. He appointed Rockefeller as his VP. Those are the only times this has happened in the US.

This confuses president and prime minister. Those countries where the PM is the effective head of government requires a number of things. As noted by tellyworth the PM must already have been elected into the parliament. They are almost always the leader of the majority party in government - and usually the leader is elected only by the members of the parliament in the party. The PM is the person who has the confidence of the parliament (basically because they will survive a vote of no confidence). Having the confidence of parliament allows the next step - which is missing from the OP’s scenario. The leader of the party approaches the person who wields executive power and is granted the right to govern by that person. In the UK that is the Queen. Other countries may have a delegated power from the UK queen, or may have a president, or some other executive body. But it is that mechanism that is required to be allowed to govern. The PM does not have the power to delegate their authority. Which is probably the key thing. The PM can be (and sometime is) dismissed by their own party in term. The new leader of the party goes to the Queen/governor-general/president and gets appointed PM. You can have a deputy PM. But the PM does not appoint or even choose them. They are elected by the party’s members of parliament, from those members, in the same way as the PM, and are appointed by the executive authority. Indeed it is common that the deputy PM is from the opposite faction within the party to the PM, and may well be the chief rival for the position of PM.

This scenario can work only on paper. It can’t in practice, neither with a parliamentary system (like the UK) nor with a presidential system (like the US).

In theory, there’s nothing that prevents a prime minister or president to let someone else govern. This other person doesn’t even need to be a vice prime minister, vice president, or anything. Obama could let his dentist decide everything and just sign whatever needs to be signed.

But in practice, in a parliamentary system, the parliament would cast a no confidence vote hence kicking out the government, and in the American system, the president would be impeached for pulling such a trick.

Of course, there might be some countries where there’s no way to remove the head executive from office, but if they exist, I don’t know which ones. And even then, I suspect the legislative body would find a way around (for instance using provisions related to the mental incapacity of the president or something like that).

In fact, in a mature democracy, there’s no way to govern without the assent of the people. Elizabeth II can’t govern all by herself even though technically she could. The French president can’t take dictatorial powers (in normal circumstances), even though he has this option according to the constitution. When all is said and done, if the population at large and the political establishment feels that the political consensus on which the system rests has been broken, the issue will be dealt with, even if it means ignoring what’s actually written in a constitution or interpreting it in extremely creative ways.
By the way, this reminds me of Russia, with the couple Putin/Medvedev, with the latter becoming president just to keep the seat until the former could run again for election. I think it’s relatively close to the concept expressed by the OP. However, those men had also the majority at the Douma (and a majority support in the population), so it’s not really anti-democratic (at least not for this reason).

In countries with a bipartisan system (hence where typically one of the two main parties holds a majority). In most parliamentary systems, there are multiple parties, so the prime minister needs the support of a coalition. The worst example currently being Belgium, where, during the last years, there wasn’t a prime minister 75% of the time because there was no way to build a majority.

Ok the thing I was missing is that the deputy prime minister must be a member of parliament, and if anyone was curious the example I was thinking of was Trinidad&Tobago PM Kamla Persad and deputy Jack Warner(was not aware he was a member of parliament).

Canada had, for a short time, a PM not in parliament. He governed from the visitor’s gallery until someone with a safe seat could be gotten to resign and let him be elected in a by-election. In the US, the presidential candidate can basically choose anyone, no matter how ill-qualified (one or more examples will readily come to mind) as his so-called running mate. And then cede as much power to him (or to anyone else) that he wants. It seems clear that Cheney wielded a lot of power in W’s first term, much less in the second.

Yes, that’s the key point. In a parliamentary system, members of the executive must be members of Parliament, either as a matter of constitutional convention (e.g. UK and Canada) or as a matter of constitutional law (I believe Australia and other parliamentary systems). And they are accountable to the Parliament every day that Parliament is sitting.

If you had an absentee Prime Minister who never attended the Commons, and a Deputy PM who wasn’t even in the Commons, there would be a change in the organization of government very quickly - there would either be a backbencher revolt and a new leader of the majority party would become PM, or the government would lose a vote of confidence and either be replaced by a new party, or there would be an election.

Depends on the particular country and their system. In Canada, the Deputy PM is chosen by the PM, as part of the PM’s power to appoint the Cabinet. That same pattern is followed in the provinces. And there is no constitutional requirement for a Deputy PM; we’ve only had one in Canada for the past ~30 years, and the current Prime Minister has never appointed a Deputy since he came to office in 2006.

It’s happened at least three times that the PM hasn’t had a seat in the Commons. Mackenzie King lost his seat on two separate occasions and had to get back into the Commons via bye-elections, as Hari outlined.

More recently, Prime Minister Turner never held a seat in the Commons whle he was Prime Minister. The Liberals had a majority in the Commons. Prime Minister Trudeau announced his retirement as leader and Prime Minister. Turner was not a member of Parliament, but he ran for the party leadership, won it, and was sworn in as Prime Minister. He called an election shortly afterwards, and the Liberals were defeated. Turner did win his own riding, however, so he came into the Commons as Leader of the Opposition.

All of these are exceptional cases, however, and prove the point that the PM has to hold a seat in the Commons as a matter of constitutional convention. In all three cases, the PM took steps to get a seat in the Commons as quickly as possible.

The OP has come close to describing the situation in Thailand. The present prime minister is a political novice whose only professional experience has been running one of the family businesses. She’s the sister of the dollar billionaire who was ousted from the premiership himself in the military coup of 2006 and who still lives in exile. She just keeps the chair warm and follows his instructions. Meanwhile, the real PM on the ground, the PM’s minder so to speak, is Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who also doubles as the finance minister. He’s the one who really calls the shots, making sure the PM stays in line as per the orders of the exiled PM.

Impeachment isn’t a recall, it’s an indictment. Congress would need to dream up something actually criminal to impeach a president that has done nothing more than just not think for himself.


There’s no universal rule saying that a minister has to be a member of parliament. It’s going to vary by country (in France, at the contrary, ministers cannot be MP). And if there’s such a rule it might be only an unwritten, customary, rule rather than something actually written in the local constitution.

It’s often said that the POTUS could be impeached for wearing an ugly tie if the house and senate agreed. Do you have any evidence that some rule could prevent an impeachment in a situation where he would delegate his power to his dentist? What are the checks on the chambers’ right to impeach?

(Until a recent rewrite of the relevant constitution’s article, the French president could only be indicted for “high treason”. Despite the evil sounding name, “high treason” wasn’t defined anywhere and jurists used to agree that an ugly tie would similarly fit the bill)

No, they wouldn’t. Impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one. Congress can impeach the President for three counts of wearing purple socks, if they wanted to.

Article 10 of the Articles of Impeachment against Andrew Jackson was that Jackson did “make and declare, with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing…” In other words, he was impeached for exercising his first amendment rights to political speech.

Remember, in the U.S., impeachment is simply an accusation or indictment by the House, followed by a trial in the Senate, which may convict or acquit.

Wiki has an article on deputy prime ministers: There have been recurring constitutional concerns in the UK that designating a DPM may suggest or imply that he or she is kinda sorta like a vice president, and would succeed the PM if the PM were to die, resign or be incapacitated. But the monarch is the one who has to select a PM, by longstanding convention the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. That might or might not be the DPM.

If the Prime Minister were to die unexpectedly, I could see the Deputy carrying out the PM functions on a caretaker basis while the party scrambled to have a leadership convention. There’s no precedent for it in Canada, however, since we’ve not had a PM die for over a century, long before the creation of the office of Deputy PM.

In the UK right now, Nick Clegg is Deputy PM. However, if anything were to happen to Cameron and he would die or be forced to step down, there’s little chance Clegg would take over: the Tories would choose a new leader and the coalition would negotiate a new PM.

Same in the previous government: under Blair, Prescott was DPM, but if Blair had died, I doubt very much Prescott would have taken over. Brown (Chancellor at the time) would have just become PM earlier.