head of state

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The head of state embodies the political community and continuity of the state, and carries out ceremonial functions associated with representing the state both at home and in foreign policy, for instance in committing the state to treaty obligations.

If the head of state does not also act as head of government, the head of state attempts to appear above party politics and to represent the interests of the nation as a whole. Such a head of state may be a hereditary monarch, which is the situation in about thirty states, or a president elected indirectly by the legislature from amongst ‘elder statesmen’. In Europe heads of state may be able to exercise some discretionary powers if the political process is temporarily deadlocked. In Italy, presidents have tried to represent the interests of the nation at large against the corruption of both government and Mafia, and in Spain King Juan Carlos played an important role in the transition from dictatorship to democracy and in cementing support for the democratic regime.

The British monarch plays two additional roles as head of state which have evolved from the nineteenth‐century role of the Crown as King and Emperor (Queen and Empress). First, the monarch is head of the Commonwealth, and recognized as such by the majority of members of the Commonwealth, which are either republics or have retained their own monarchy. Secondly, the monarch remains head of state of a few Commonwealth states, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In these states, from which most of the time of course she is absent, a Governor‐General who carries out ceremonial functions on her behalf represents her. In 1999 Australians unexpectedly voted in a referendum not to substitute an indirectly elected head of state.


Subjects: Politics.

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