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Consider the example of Russia having a President and a Prime Minister. What is the purpose of having two "potential" head-of-states? Constitutional monarchies have essentially powerless royalty but a strong PM (like Great Britain, Japan and Spain).

As I understand the Russian model, both have power. I am curious to know why this is set this way. Also, does this contribute to power clashes between the two?

Are there other examples of this type of dual head-of-state arrangement?

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The UK Does not have two heads of states, and nor do most others. The UK has one Head of State (the monarch) and one Head of Government (the Prime Minister). They have very different functions.

The monarch, the Head of State, has a largely ceremonial function. Soldiers swear allegiance to her; she formally approves of laws (but must always approve those the government has voted in); she opens parliament, receives salutes, and waves at people from her carriage. See Constitutional Monarchy for more information.

The Prime Minister is the Head of Government. He or she gets to decide policy, choose ministers (although the monarch formally appoints them) and propose laws.

This applies to the UK and also other 'Westminster model' Commonwealth realms, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand:

Other Constitutional Monarchies include Spain, Netherlands, Sweden.

Other presidential democracies have a similar split, including France (the Prime Minister is Head of Government and the President Head of State, though having more power than the Queen of England), Israel, Germany.

Wikipedia has more list.

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  • 2
    Incidentally, the Queen of the UK is also the head of state of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (among others). – user1840 Jun 19 '13 at 5:19
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    The monarch's function is to be the thing that power and authority ultimately flows from. The fact that she (or, in future, he) doesn't exercise that power directly is largely irrelevant to the process but anyone who exercises authority over another person (the police, the govt, parliament, the courts, the army) all do so with the permission of the monarch to exercise power in her name. – Valorum May 4 '19 at 17:28
  • "must always approve those the government has voted in" - she can refuse. Once. I think it has happened that the German president has refused laws. But then the German president is elected and part of his role is to act as the conscience of parliament. – gnasher729 Aug 31 '19 at 13:22
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Flippant answer: Russia does NOT, in fact, have a Prime Minister :)

More specifically, while Medvedev is sometimes colloquially called "PM" by equivalence, the term "Prime Minister" is not mentioned anywhere in Russian constitution. The official title of the post is The "Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation (Russian: Председатель Правительства Российской Федерации)".

Having said that, there are different situations in different countries.

Specifically, the situation in Russia can be characterized in layman's terms as:

  • President is Head of State. He is somewhat outside (or above) the standard executive/legislative branches of government.

    • Main functions involve control of "siloviki" (he's Commander in Chief), and setting strategic direction of the country, as well as choosing the candidacy of "PM" to present to the legislative body for approval vote.
  • "Prime Minister" (aka Chairman of the Government) is the head of Government.

The best analogy I can think of is a division of the corporate roles of Chairman of the Board vs. CEO. The former is responsible for heading the strategic direction of the company, and typically works with the Board to choose and hire a CEO who in turn is responsible for actual day to day executive management of the company.

P.S. Of course, in Russia, this separation is purely nominal, as - despite the cosmetic castling, Putin remained the "CEO" role holder despite being PM for Medvedev's President in between his own two presidential terms.


As far as examples, as noted, most corporations have this dual role. Some other states have it as well, but in different forms - for example, while Israel has both a PM and a President, the President holds significantly less real political power.

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  • Thank you for the clarification. I have heard many news orgs here refer to Russia's "PM" and did not look up the official designation of that office. – iowatiger08 Jun 18 '13 at 21:16
  • @iowatiger08 - News media wrong on facts. Color me SHOCKED! – user4012 Jun 18 '13 at 23:12
  • President of Israel is a nominal head of state. He is required by law to not make "controversial" i.e. political statements, and not take sides in politics. He has exactly two powers: he appoints the candidate to form a coalition immediately after the elections - and there was no precedent as of yet of not choosing the leader of the winning party; and he signs pardons for criminals and terrorists (but he isn't allowed to propose candidates to be pardoned, the Justice Ministry does that). So he actually has no real political power. – Genli Ai Jul 3 '13 at 17:53
  • I +1'd you, thinking you dissed Russia. Too bad you didn't. :) Russia has no President either, Putin is no President, even if he's called so. Russia is a theatrical Asian satrapy. They have no parliament and no courts either. – Genli Ai Jul 3 '13 at 18:06
  • @WillNess - "dissing" is really NOT the purpose of this site. – user4012 Jul 3 '13 at 18:35
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You are greatly mistaken if you think that the PM and the President are somehow equal in Russia. Russia is an ultra-presidential republic where the President has the most of powers. The PM has nowhere similar authority.

The President issues decrees which have power similar to laws. He signs laws. He appoints the PM. He appoints the judges and regional governors. He directly controls the armed forces and police. He can dissolve the legislature and the cabinet at will.

This system was introduced in 1993 after then-President Yeltsin staged a coup after a conflict with the Supreme Council (the legislature) and ordered the tanks to shoot at the legislature's building. After that he adopted a new constitution which gave total power to the President.

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Provides legitimacy and continuity and identity along it being the non controversial position for not itself actually taking any decision. Decisions of Real executives are often politically motivated, hence prone to controversies which is not good for the health of a state. Better to have a non controversial head.

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