Generally, what is the difference between a President and a Prime Minister?

That’s not quite right. In addition to the majority government and the coalition government you mention, there can also be a minority government: no party has a majority, and there is no agreement between any of the parties on the issues.

The government in power in those cases doesn’t command a majority, and hopes to be able to stay in office on a vote-by-vote basis. The Opposition parties decide vote-by-vote if they will support the government, or vote against them and trigger an election. That’s a political calculation, which ultimately turns on whether the opposition thinks their chances are good if they go to the polls now, or wait until things look better

In the past century, Canada has had several minority governments of this type, but only one coalition government.

Presidente or Presidente del Gobierno or Presidente del Gobierno central or Presidente del Gobierno español. The first one is more informal, so it gets followed by the lastname alone; the other three would be followed by the whole name. So, el Presidente Rajoy but el Presidente del Gobierno (central/español), Mariano Rajoy.

The Autonomous Governments also have Presidents, but they generally get the adjective: Presidente del Gobierno andaluz, for example. A few get special titles: Euskadi gets a Lehendakari (in Basque) which is often called el Lehendakari vasco by news media despite being the only person who gets that specific title when speaking Spanish, Navarre a Presidente del Gobierno Foral (Foral being our specific type of legal system), Catalonia and Valencia get Presidents de la Generalitat in Catalan/Valenciano (with the respective adjectives tacked on when clarity demands it).

Re. the caps in my post: the caps are used or not depending on the specific document. Official documents tend to use almost-Germanic amounts of caps; newspapers, nowhere near as much.

Also, we don’t refer to them as President of “place” because that would be the Head of State. During the Second Republic for example we’d simultaneously have a Presidente de la República and a Presidente del Gobierno - two different people with different functions.

It’s just a convention* to translate non Head of State Chief executives as “Prime Minister”. No matter what the position is actually called. The Spanish PM is the presiding officer of the Government. As is for UK and Canadian PM. It’s just a historical accident that the position which developed in the UK was called PM, it could easily have been called “President”, in fact there were and are several positions in the UK called that.

*Iran is the exception.

Yup. The Lord President of the Council is a typical Cabinet position in the UK.
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And in Canada as well. Except for that “Lord” thing.

Northern Piper, let me see if I’ve got that: In a minority government, the ruling party might have support of party B on their economic initiatives, and parties C and D on their social programs, and of D and E on their trade policies, but as long as they can cobble together some winning combination on each individual vote (even if it’s not always the same combination), they can stay in power. And maybe they don’t even bring some issues to a vote at all, if they know or suspect that they won’t be able to get the votes for it (because if they did bring it to a vote and failed, they’d be out of power).

That’s pretty much it, yes.

The one vote that they have to bring forward is the budget, and that has to pass. If the government loses a budget vote, they either resign and let some other party take a chance at governing, or they call an election to take it to the people.

Other than that, they’ve got a great deal of discretion in deciding which matters to bring to a vote, with lots of behind the scenes manoeuvring with the other parties, to get a sense of what their chances are if they brought a measure to a vote.

Nava, thanks for the explanation of naming conventions in Spain.

Losing a vote normally doesn’t mean that you’re out of power. In parliamentary systems, there’s usually a specific “vote of no confidence” that results in the government being ousted. In theory a minority government could stay in charge despite every single one of their proposals being rejected by the parliament as long as there’s no such “vote of no confidence”.

Very generally, there are :
-Presidential systems, like the USA, which you’re familiar with. The president is elected by the people hence has his own political legitimacy. He’s the head of the executive and solely that. The legislative is totally independant from him, and has its own electoral legitimacy.He retains all his powers whether or not he has a majority in parliament.

-Parliamentary systems : the president is often some elderly, consensual, well respected politician, generally elected by the parliament. He has very little power, and is mostly a ceremonial head of state, not very different from a king/queen. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister, who isn’t elected by the people , but in normal circumstances, can command a majority in parliament. As a result a prime minister in a parliamentary system has more actual powers than a president in a presidential system since besides being the head of the executive, he’s also normally the leader of the parliament’s majority (not in name, since there’s still a party leader in the parliament, but, usually, in fact). On the other hand, if he can’t command such a majority, he has to step down.
Semi-presidential systems aren’t terribly common. Basically, they’re parliamentary systems with a president elected by the people, hence with a personal political legitimacy. So, if the president can command a majority in the parliament, the president is more or less in the same position as a prime minister in a parliamentary system, the actual prime minister being more or less a second in command. If the president can’t command such a majority, then he has to appoint a prime minister who can, and he ends up being more or less in the same situation as a president/king in a parliamentary system, with little actual power (though typically a bit more because, once again, he has been elected by the people, so he’s likely to have more residual powers than your average king).

Depends on what you mean by “common.” There are by my count at least 31 semi-presidential countries, or about 16% of all countries use this system. That is excluding more limited recognition places like Abkhazia (add about 5-6 more if you want to count those, including the Republic of China). It does divide that into 2 separate systems though, president-parliamentary system and premier-presidential system. The main distinction seems to be that in the latter the president cannot dismiss the PM or cabinet.

This is a point that can vary considerably from country to country. In the Westminster system, confidence can be triggered by more than just a formal vote of non-confidence. As mentioned up thread, being defeated on the budget is invariably a confidence measure in Westminster systems.

Whether other measures are considered matters of confidence will depend on the rules and customs in the particular Parliament. Canada, for example, has very strong party discipline, in part because almost every gouvernement measure is considered a matter of confidence, unless the government states in advance of a vote that it does not consider it a matter of confidence, such as a free vote or a government measure for the Cabinet members only, freeing backbenchers to vote as they please.

I acknowledge that this approach is not found in every parliamentary system. But, what’s the point of having a government that can’t pass any of its legislation? That government would be out in the Canadian system.

Under Westminister, most governments that fall during their term do so because of loss of support for their agenda, either broadly or on a particular piece of legislation. Indeed a formal motion of no confidence succeeding is very rare.
Conversely motions of no confidence can be proposed regularly but a government with a working majority will simply amend the motion of no confidence into a motion of censure against the member or even the whole opposition or similar strategy.

There’s a whole lot of governing which has nothing to do with passing legislation.
Provided they can maintain Supply there are great affairs of state, both domestic and diplomatic, incidental and routine governance announcements, regulations and departmental policy. Indeed probably 90% of parliamentary activity is not legislative and a very large proportion of that is transacted with the implicit agreement of both government and opposition.

More to the point, a government that not only can’t pass legislation, but which is so incompetent at counting votes that they don’t even know that they can’t pass legislation.

Oh but contraire.

Possibly they are so good at counting the votes they know precisely which legislation they can pass and that which they can’t .

Coalitions can be between two (or more) parties that agree on the big questions or can be between two (or more) parties that agree not to disagree on the big questions.

Oddly, this is possibly no longer true in the parliament that actually sits at Westminster. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act isn’t fully compatible with the idea of informal confidence votes. Parliament can only be dissolved early if there’s a formal no-confidence vote and two weeks go by without it being rescinded, or two-thirds of the Commons votes to have an early election. So there could be a situation where the government loses supply, there is no plausible alternative government, and the other parties chicken out when it comes to actually doing something that could trigger an election.

I’m not sure these consequences were really thought through.

Right, but the governments that know how to count and what not to push for are ones that don’t fail. In order to fail, you have to not only not have the votes, but to push for it anyway, and how incompetent is that?

I wasn’t aware of that, Lord Feldon. Thanks for clarifying my ignorance. :slight_smile:

Politics is the art of the possible.

Say you have a minority government with a clear mandate for a reformist agenda.
They want to bring in “radical” legislation, say legalising gay marriage. It might be the only chance to do this they’ll get in a generation. The opposition conservatives howl the place down forecasting the end of civilisation as we know it and to vote the government down.

The minority government counts the numbers and decides that they’ll bring the debate on anyway.

When it comes to the vote sufficient of the opposition cross the floor, vote their conscience and the bill passes. Or the party whips hold the line, the vote fails and the government falls.

That might be courageous or foolhardy but I’m unsure it counts as necessarily incompetent.