what's the difference between a president and a prime minister

i know that monarchy’s have prime minister as their supreme leader while republics have president - or both

i have often wondered why the president position wary so when it comes to political power. USAs president are very powerfull, while the president in France seams to have about the same power as the prime minister. And what about Germany! nobody seams to be able to name the president in there

The short answer is that a Prime Minister is chosen to head a Parliament, while a President is usually separate from the legislature.

In parliamentary countries, the Prime Minister is the head of the government and runs day-to-day business, while a monarch or President is the head of state and usually serves a more ceremonial role. Examples are France (president) and the UK (monarch). Indeed, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other places all share the same monarch while having their own parliaments.

In the US, the President is both the head of government and head of state, which is very unusual for a democracy.

That’s not true, or at least overly simplistic.

Parliamentary democracies have a PM (or equivalent). Some of these have constitutional or ceremonial monarchs, but some don’t: republics have presidents, but some of them are also parliamentary - e.g. Ireland.

The difference is that in a parliamentary democracy, the leader of the party that holds a working majority becomes the leader of the state, with a ceremonial head of state. In a presidential republic, the president has real power, and usually the president’s office is voted for separately.

friedo’s answer is important. A Prime Minister is a member of and beholden to Parliament and serves at their confidence. A PM can be removed from office by a vote of no confidence, which is immensely easier to finagle than an impeachment is in the US. A US president is the head of an entirely separate branch of government from Congress. Congress has various powers over the Executive, but they’re not as direct or as strong as in a parliamentary government. And the President has powers over Congress as well, though, again, they’re either difficult to perform or they’re relatively weak.

A president or monarch is usually the head of state, while a prime minister is the head of government.

In many countries the head of state is a minor position whose main function is to call for elections and convene and dismiss the legislature. In other systems the head of state might be able to propose or veto legislation, appoint government officials such as judges, or control the armed forces. However, most monarchies do not allow the monarch, or the monarch’s representative (such as Canada’s Governor General) to do such things. In countries where the head of state is powerful they are often directly elected.

The prime minister is the head of the legislature, and is whoever can command a majority vote from the legislature. If one party holds a majority of the legislature, then they can vote their leader as prime minister. If no party holds a majority, then a coalition of parties can elect a prime minister.


the president in USA is both president and “king”

is there any other nations that have the same system

It’s not true that the US president is both prime minister and king.

In some countries (such as the UK) there is no separate legislative and exective branch. This is because the former executive branch, the monarchy, has been progressively stripped of powers over the last 1000 years. So nowadays the queen does nothing more than wave at the tourists and occasionally say, “Keep up the good work!” to the Prime Minister.

The US has a completely independent legislative branch. The US congress has two houses, and each house elects its own leadership, which is completely independent of the president. It is common in the US for the congress to be controlled by one party, while the president is a member of another party. This is impossible in a parliamentary system, whether a parliamentary republic or a constitutional monarchy, because the notional executive is not supposed to represent any party, but rather the country as a whole. In a country without an independent executive branch the prime minister must always have a majority in the legislature, whenever they cease to have a majority they cease to be the prime minister. The citizens never vote for prime minister directly, instead they vote for parties, and parliament selects the prime minister.

Can you clarify this? Does the senate alone make legislation in the US? AFAIK, the ultimate legislative branch of government in the UK is the House of Lords, which is entirely separate from Parliament, and has the power of veto of anything Parliament may care to pass (despite Blair’s attempts to override this).

When did the House of Lords stop being part of Parliament?

The House of Lords is one of the two houses of Parliament in the UK.

I’m confused - are you really asking about the US here? If so, no. The House of Representatives and the Senate must pass exactly the same bill, and then the president must sign it before it has the force of law.

That’s a bit of a simplification, of course - for the detailed process see here. But the Senate certainly doesn’t make law by itself.

OK, got my nomenclature wrong. Substitute Commons vs. Lords in the above.

The House of Lords does not have any final power of veto over bills passed by the House of Commons. The *Parliament Acts * of 1911 and 1949 determined the extent of the power of the House of Lords:

  • bills dealing with taxation and public expenditure must receive the Royal Assent no later than a month after being introduced into the House of Lords, even if the House of Lords has not passed them.

  • the House of Lords can delay most other types of bills, but generally only for a year. The House of Commons can reintroduce the bills in the next session of Parliament and have them passed without the consent of the House of Lords.

The US legislature is kind of complicated.

There are two houses, the House and the Senate. House representatives are elected for 2 year terms, Senators are elected for 6 years. Legislation can be proposed by each house, but must be passed by both houses. So both houses will pass versions of a bill, it will go to a conference committee made up of members of both houses that will try to reconcile the two versions into one version. Then the unifed version will go back to both houses, which will have to pass the bill again. Then the bill goes to the President, who can either sign it or veto it. If the President vetoes, the veto can be overridden by a 2/3 vote in Congress.

So although the US Senate is logically equivalent to the UK House of Lords, and is sometimes called the “Upper House”, it is really co-equal to the House of Representatives. The US Senate is quite powerful, and since there are 425 representatives but only 100 senators, each individual Senator is more powerful than each representative. Also, House rules pretty much allow a majority to do whatever it likes, Senate rules allow individual Senators and minorities more freedom. Also, Senators have the power to confirm or reject appointments by the President…so they vote on Judiciary, Cabinet, and certain other Executive branch nominations. However, the House has the sole ability to control spending.

Contrast to Britain, where if a majority of the House of Commons votes for something, it’s done, unless the Monarch wants to precipitate a constitutional crisis.

It might be worthy of note that perceptions of separation-of-powers issues seem to differ significantly with the point of view of the observer. For example I have read a number of times from US authors that parliamentary systems don’t have separation of powers while we citizens of such systems are of the opinion that we do have a separation of powers (and occasionally even opine that the US don’t have separation of powers as president and VP both have a role in the legislative process).

Also the nature of the position of a president-who-is-head-of-state-but-not-chief-executive seems to be viewed differently from within than from without such a system. For example the position of the president of Germany is often dismissed as a purely ceremonial one when reporting to a US audience but in Germany the holder of the office is accorded a measure of respect and deference that is not accorded to the prime minister (the Chancellor) - the Chancellor is fair game to everyone’s criticism but criticising the President is frowned upon (the reverse of the medal is that the President, as representative of the nation not its government, must take care not to be party political). Also these Presidents-who-are-not-chief-executives often have important reserve powers (to do with resolving gridlock situation, or with reining in an executive or legislature overstepping their constitutional bounds) that are no less important for being rarely invoked.

Post-war Germany has a clearly parliamentary system, just with a few quirks related to the federal structure.

The head of government is the Federal Chancellor, basically the same thing as a prime minister. The title “Chancellor” was chosen for the modern Empire in 1871 based on a traditional office at the medieval court and after that the name just stuck. The Chancellor handles the regular political business. She (currently we have our first female Chancellor) can appoint her own ministers without confirmation. In wartime she becomes Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. In order to replace her, the parliament has to elect a successor with a simple majority. She has no veto powers over parliament.

Our head of state is the Federal President. He has an almost exclusively ceremonial role. In the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) the President had a much stronger role, modelled after that of the Emperor in the constitutional monarchy (1871-1918.) The imprudent use of the President’s powers was seen as a central failure of that constitution that paved the way for the Third Reich. In the current system, the President is supposed to be nonpartisan and does not deal with everyday politics. He has representative duties, bestows honors and has the right to pardon under federal jurisdiction (which is far more restrictive than in the US.) He inaugurates the Chancellor and federal Ministers and nominally he appoints federal judges and officers but without any choice of his own. Nominally he also signs all federal laws, but without veto power. However on very rare occasions Presidents have delayed this until procedural disputes had been settled. The only real powers become relevant when parliament fails to elect a Chancellor. If a Chancellor loses a vote of confidence but no new one is elected, the president can call general elections. If no candidate has a majority after an election, the president can either make a minority candidate Chancellor (keep in mind that parliament can replace that one at any time if they elect someone else) or dissolve parliament again.
The President is not elected by the population but by an assembly of all members of parliament and an equal number of electors from the states.

Correct me if I’m wrong but wouldn’t the founding fathers be rolling in their graves if they knew the extent of the powers of the modern US president?
Did they not conceive of the position as more ceremonial? Over the course of history particularly two World Wars, the powers of the US president has grown significantly.

Also a republic doesn’t have to have a president but nearly all modern ones do. The exceptions as San Marino (2 Captains-Regent) and Switzerland (the Federal Council is collectively head of state). Also most comunist countries (which are republics) didn’t have a president. The chairman of the legislature or it’s standing committee served as head of state. Eg Fidel Castro isn’t actually President of Cuba he’s President of the Council of State (he’s also “President of the Council of Ministers”). Also Nazi Germany was technically a republic with a fuhrer as head of state and government.

It’s worth remembering in this context that the ministers of departments, analogous to U.S. cabinet secretaries, are also MPs. In 1994 when the Republicans took over the U.S. legislature, this meant that the party got to take over all the powerful chairmanships of the various congressional committees. When reading the cover story on this in Der Spiegel, I almost got the impression that the US House was being described as a sort of shadow parliamentary government that really wielded the reigns of power, and the committee chairmen were very much analogous to the ministers of a parliamentary state, and Newt Gingrich was in a position parallel to that of a PM. Effectively, in 1995, that may well be considered to have been true.

France has a very unusual constitutionnal system. Technically, it’s a parliamentary system, since the parliament can overthrow the government by a vote of no confidence and the executive can dissolve the parliament.

However, contrarily to what happens in usual parliamentary systems, the president is elected by the people, which gives him a significant political legitimacy (in parliamentary systems, the presidents is generally elected by the parliament). More importantly, he wields a lot of power. Without giving too much detail, there are two possible situations :
-The president has a majority in the parliament : he runs the show. He appoints the prime minister (and ask him to resign when it’s convenient), and generally speaking (usually, I’m not explaining here what he could/ could not do technically), he decides about the general orientations. The prime minister…hmmm… gets the work done. So, roughly, the prime minister is “second in command” to the president and generally stays in charge at his leisure.
-The president doesn’t have a majority in the parliament : then the french system works mostly like an usual parliamentary democracy. The guy actually in charge is the prime minister. However, the president retains some significant powers that a regular parliamentary president wouldn’t have (for instance, he can dissolve the parliament, or organize a referendum when he decides to. He can even take dictatorial-like powers in some circumstances). Also, traditionnally, he is closely associated to the decision-making regarding military and foreign affairs.
It’s generally considered that the french system wasn’t really intended to work with a president without majority.
France is often said to have a “semi-presidential” system (a presidential system being an USA-like system with an executive and a legislative branch essentially entirely independant).