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What is the Difference Between a President and a Prime Minister?

Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States from 1861 to 1865.
Sculpture of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
When US presidents are elected and sworn in, they move into the White House in Washington D.C.
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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 August 2014
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The differences between a president and a prime minister largely depend on the countries to which one is referring. A country might have one or the other — or even both — and their powers can vary depending on the type of government that a country has and the specific laws that apply to its government. Some are heads of state, and others are merely heads of government, which means that they lead the operations of their governments but are not as powerful as heads of state. In general, a president typically is elected by the people and is separate from the country's legislative body, and a prime minister typically is a member of the legislative body who is chosen by that legislature to be its leader.

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In a parliamentary government, the prime minister often is appointed by the parliament. The appointment will almost always be made by the party that has the most members of parliament. In this way, citizens who vote for parliamentary members indirectly influence the choice of prime minister, because a high number of parliamentary members from the same party will elect a prime minister from that party. The prime minister leads the parliament and therefore is the head of government but usually is not the head of state — a monarch, president or other official typically has that role. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, the prime minister is appointed by a monarch, usually at the recommendation of the party that controls parliament.

Many times, the prime minister is the leader of the legislature but also must answer to the legislature and could even be ousted by it. He or she often must appear before the legislature on a regular basis, such as once a week, and answer questions regarding his or her decisions. If the legislature doesn’t like the answers, the members could decide to elect a new prime minister. Some countries also require an election for the prime minister at certain intervals, such as every five years, as in the U.K.

A president usually does not have to answer to the country's legislative body except in certain circumstances, such as when he or she is accused of an illegal act, such as abusing his or her power. He or she might make speeches to the legislature and might take questions, but he or she is not required by law to defend his or her decisions in front of the legislature. Also, the president is elected by the people separately from the legislature, so he or she might be from a political party that is different from the party that controls the legislature.

In some countries, such as France, the president is elected by the people and must appoint a prime minister. Thus, the prime minister is likely to be from the president’s political party. The prime minister in a country that also has a president typically has less power to act than a prime minister in a country whose head of state is mostly a figurehead. Sometimes, a monarch or the ruling family chooses the country's prime minister. When this is the case, the appointee usually acts in concert with the wishes of the country’s ruler or rulers and might ensure that those wishes are carried out by the government.

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anon357864
Post 39

What is the difference between the role of Britain's Prime Minister and the Russian President?

anon338957
Post 38

Turkey is also one of countries having both president and prime minister.

Both the presidency and the prime minister's duties are in the executive body, according to the Constitution. However, the president has duties that also cross over into the legislative and judicial bodies.

The president is elected for five years by public vote directly and may be elected for a second time, but the prime minister is appointed from the members of the Grand Assembly by the president.

According to the 104th Article of the Constitution, the president is the head of the State and represents the State and unity of the nation. He or she ensures the implementation of the Constitution, and the regular and harmonious functioning of the organs of state.

The president here has great power in the appointment of critical positions, such as members of the Constitutional Court, Chief of General Staff, rectors of universities, members of the Higher Educational Council etc.

The president also promulgates laws if he or she does not return them to be reconsidered by the Grand Assembly.

In some cases, the president may use pardoning power over some convicts.

According to the 112nd Article of Turkish Constitution, The Prime Minister, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, shall ensure cooperation among the ministers, and supervise the implementation of the government’s general policy.

anon332412
Post 36

In Ethiopia, when Meles Zenawi was the president in the 1990s, he had more power than the prime minister. Later on, when Zenawi became the prime minister after imprisoning the current prime minister, Tamrat Layne, he had all the power, leaving the new president with little to no power.

After staying in power for more than two decades, Zenawi died of complications related to but not limited to overdosing, leaving the country in a state of confusion with the president, Zenawi's widow and the deputy prime minster (who later became the prime minster) bullying each other to sort out who will assume power and continue to reside in the palace.

After four months, it seems the prime minster won and had the power, even though some doubt if he really got the power or if he is just acting like he got the power while in reality, the Meles Zenawi foundation family and the military generals are the real decision makers in all regards.

anon282355
Post 32

Thank you! I have wanting to know what the difference was for years!

anon257234
Post 30

Other countries that have a prime minister and a president: Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, and Sri Lanka. Germany technically does too but they use the term chancellor instead of prime minister.

anon241205
Post 26

Is a prime minister's power absolute?

anon193299
Post 25

Thanks for a good post. I though think there are some details that have to be reviewed to give more perspective to the terms used and to reflect the diverse real world application of these.

In countries where there are both a president and a prime minister (PM), it is not always that the president decides the most; e.g. Russia's current president don't have much to say compared to PM (and formerly president) Putin.

In Germany, most executive decisions are made by the Chancellor (similar to a PM).

About appointing/electing PMs: in theory, what you write is true (that a PM is appointed), though in countries with a King/Queen (monarch) it is he/she who appoints the PM.

In reality, in the election campaigns between political parties, the two/three leading parties usually put their leaders forward as PM candidates. When the King/Queen is to appoint the next PM, he/she consults the parties which have made up the new government and their proposed candidate, who was elected by the citizens

An example of a country where the democratic decision (people's vote) was neglected, is Thailand during the elections in 2006.

anon169361
Post 24

what difference is there in the powers of the USA President and the Russia President?

anon166601
Post 23

The UK prime minister isn't appointed by Parliament. They are chosen by the monarch, as the person most able to command a parliamentary majority.

anon162268
Post 22

so what about russia? they have a president and a prime minister? Who's in charge there?

anon148231
Post 20

This was very helpful i am going to canberra on a field trip very soon and we will be asked this question.

anon123527
Post 13

thank you. this was very helpful to me. i am a student and this helped me very much with my work i had to do. thank you.

anon92066
Post 11

Italy has a Prime Minister not Chancellor. And He has more power than the president.

anon88713
Post 10

it's a good web site! it has small answers and can be used to get answers that other sites provide in a long way form!!

anon81935
Post 9

any other points in how the prime minister in britain is seen as becoming too much of a president?

anon49499
Post 6

thank you so much. this helped me beat my business test.

anon40926
Post 5

That was very helpful, but next time could you please put Australia? Thanks!

anon24197
Post 3

this was very helpful thank you. i think greece also has a president and a prime minister.

apolo72
Post 2

Other countries that have a prime minister and a president: Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, and Sri Lanka. Germany technically does too but they use the term chancellor instead of prime minister.

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