President or Prime Minister? Your Guide to Leaders Around the World

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Leaders from around the world go by many titles. German leaders are called chancellors. The North Korean leader is called the supreme leader. China’s leader is called a premier. The United State, of course, has a president. Here’s your guide to how leaders around the world operate.

President

Exterior of the White House
Credit: Bob Pool/ Shutterstock

President and prime minister are the two most common titles for leaders around the world. Many countries have both a president and a prime minister who run the government together. The president is typically the head of state and is in charge of representing the entire population both at home and abroad.

The powers of a president can vary depending on the constitution that put them in power. In the United States, for instance, the president has many executive powers including control of the military. They can’t, however, directly introduce legislation into Congress. The French president has some of the most extensive executive powers among democratic leaders.

Prime Minister

Malaysian Prime Minister Office
Credit: berm_teerawat/ Shutterstock

While a president is typically considered the head of state, a prime minister is considered the head of government and is responsible for leading all government operations. The exact duties of a prime minister vary depending on the country, but most are entirely responsible for the decisions and policies of their respective government and are active in the country’s legislature. Prime ministers, unlike presidents, are typically chosen by the legislature instead of being elected by the people.

Many countries have both a president and a prime minister. This is called a semi-presidential executive system. Typically, the president oversees foreign policy while the prime minister handles domestic affairs. The president is the head of state and elected by the people. The prime minister is nominated by the president and chosen by the legislature.

Chancellor

German chancellor addresses congregation standing behind podium
Credit: Spreefoto/ Shutterstock

Many Germanic countries call their primary leader a chancellor. The chancellor has many of the same powers as prime ministers: they’re the head of the government, a part of the legislature, and ensure smooth operation of the government. They’re nominated by the president and elected by the legislating body, not the people. They work in cooperation with the head of state, which, most of the time, is the president.

Premier

Government congregation and Premier in the People's Republic of China
Credit: Mirko Kuzmanovic/ Shutterstock

Premier is often used interchangeably with prime minister, and both positions have similar responsibilities. They’re both the head of government and in charge of ensuring its smooth operation. Several countries call their leader, either formally or colloquially, a premier, including China, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Italy, and Croatia.

Supreme Leader

Street view of banners of Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Credit: BalkansCat/ Shutterstock

Iran and North Korea are the only two countries in the world that have a supreme leader in charge of the government. The supreme leader has just as much power as you’d expect someone with that title to have: all of it. They are in total control of all branches of the government and typically serve as both head of state and head of government.

Iran has a president who serves under the supreme leader, but aside from a large public presence, he doesn’t have much real power. The supreme leader still controls the executive branch along with the military.

Monarch

The gates of Buckingham Palace royal home in England, United Kingdom
Credit: Victoria Shabanova/ Shutterstock

Monarchies have been the most popular method of government throughout history. Just about every civilization on Earth was ruled by a king or queen at some point in time. There are still some countries in the world that maintain absolute monarchies where the king or queen is completely in charge of all government proceedings.

Many of those countries have brought their monarchies into the democratic age and introduced constitutional monarchies, much like the system set up by the British. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of the government. The position of monarch is largely ceremonial and doesn’t grant much governmental power, just influence. The position is, in most cases, hereditary.

In October 2019, Japan crowned its newest Emperor, a type of monarch. The position of emperor is equivalent to king or queen. The position is mostly ceremonial as the Emperor is a figurehead and symbol for the people.

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