AskDefine | Define president

Dictionary Definition



1 an executive officer of a firm or corporation
2 the person who holds the office of head of state of the United States government; "the President likes to jog every morning" [syn: President of the United States, United States President, Chief Executive]
3 the chief executive of a republic
4 the officer who presides at the meetings of an organization; "address your remarks to the chairperson" [syn: chairman, chairwoman, chair, chairperson]
5 the head administrative officer of a college or university [syn: prexy]
6 the office of the United States head of state; "a President is elected every four years" [syn: President of the United States, Chief Executive]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin praesidens (accusative: praesidentem), meaning 'president, leader'. The Latin word is the substantivized present participle of the verb praesideo (infinitive: praesidere). The verb is composed from prae 'before' and sedere 'sit'. The original meaning of the verb is 'to sit before' in the sense of presiding at a meeting. A secondary meaning of the verb is 'to command, to govern'. So praesidens means 'the presiding one on a meeting' or 'governor, commander'.



  1. The head of state of a republic, a representative democracy and sometimes (in cases of constitutional violations) a dictatorship.
  2. The primary leader of a corporation. Not to be confused with CEO, which is a related but separate position that is sometimes held by a different person.


Extensive Definition

President is a title held by many leaders of organizations, companies, trade unions, universities, and countries. Etymologically, a "president" is one who presides, who sits in leadership (from Latin pre- "before" + sedere "to sit"; giving the term praeses). Originally, the term referred to the presiding officer of a ceremony or meeting (i.e. chairman); but today it most commonly refers to an official with executive powers.
Among other things, president today is a common title for the head of state of most republics, whether popularly elected, chosen by the legislature or a special electoral college. It is also often adopted by dictators.


As an English word, the term was originally used to refer to the presiding officer of a committee or governing body in Great Britain. Early examples are from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (from 1464); the founding President of the Royal Society William Brouncker in 1660.
Later this usage was applied to political leaders, including the leaders of some of the Thirteen Colonies (originally Virginia in 1608); in full, the "President of the Council".. The first President of a country was George Washington, the President of the United States. In America the title was 'upgraded' from its earlier use for the President of the Continental Congress, the "officer in charge of the Continental Congress" since 1774.
As other countries followed the American Revolution, and deposed their monarchies, president was commonly adopted as the title for the new republican heads of state. The first European president was the president of France, a post created in the Second Republic of 1848. (The First Republic had begun with no separate executive, then established five directors, and finally echoed the ancient Roman Republic by appointing three consuls at its head.)
The first president of an internationally recognized African state was the President of Liberia in 1848.
Today, most republics have a President as their head of state.

Presidents in democratic countries and international organizations

Presidential systems

In states with a presidential system of government, the President exercises the functions of Head of State and Head of Government, i.e. he directs the Executive arm of Government.
Presidents in this system are either directly elected by popular vote or indirectly elected by an electoral college. In the United States of America, the President is indirectly elected by the U.S. Electoral College made up of electors chosen by voters in the presidential election. In most U.S. states, each elector is committed to voting for a specified candidate determined by the popular vote in each state, so that the people, in voting for each elector, is in effect voting for the candidate. However, in several close U.S. elections (notably 1876, 1888, 2000), the candidate with the most popular votes still lost the electoral count.
Many South American, Central American, and African nations follow the presidential model.

Parliamentary systems

Other states have adopted a parliamentary system of government, in which the president is head of state but largely ceremonial. In these cases the separate head of government (often a prime minister), who is usually indirectly elected by the parliamentary majority, holds the executive power and forms the government.
Countries with such systems include most European and Commonwealth republics including Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Hungary, Macedonia, Turkey and Singapore, as well as Portugal (which has a slightly different system). Sri Lanka has a hybrid system (which includes a parliament and a prime minister as well as an extremely powerful president). The president of Nauru is, however, elected by the parliament according to the Westminster system and acts as both the head of state and head of government. This is also the case for the presidents of Botswana and South Africa (since 1984). Under such a system, the president as head of state generally takes a similar role to a constitutional monarch, with the government governing in his or her name, producing phrases such as "His/Her Excellency's Government" in formal state documentation.
A president may also possess some reserve powers, which can be exercised by the president without formal advice (that is, binding instruction) from the government. In some constitutional systems the president chairs (at least some) cabinet meetings and often has access to all cabinet memoranda. Especially in fields where protocol is important, such as diplomacy, the head of state tends to be a major player. The president can therefore exercise a degree of informal influence not often publicly realised.
An example of this influence is the following: between 1870 and 1940, and again from 1945 to 1958, France operated a classic parliamentary system of government, with power in a cabinet chosen by the National Assembly, and a largely, though not totally, symbolic president; in 1877, President Mac-Mahon showed that his office was constitutionally significant when he dismissed the then prime minister before calling new elections, in the hope of achieving a royalist majority to restore the monarchy (the plan failed).

Presidential titles for non heads of state

Some countries with parliamentary systems use a term meaning/translating as 'president' (in some languages indistinguishable from chairman) for the head of parliamentary government, often as President of the Government, President of the Council of Ministers or President of the Executive Council.
However, such an official is explicitly not the president of the country. Rather, he or she is called a president in an older sense of the word to denote the fact that he or she heads the cabinet. A separate head of state generally exists in their country that instead serves as the president or monarch of the country.
Thus, such officials are really premiers, and to avoid confusion are often described simply as 'prime minister' when being mentioned internationally.
There are several examples for this kind of presidency:

Semi-presidential systems

A third system is the semi-presidential system, also known as the French system, in which like the Parliamentary system there is both a president and a prime minister, but unlike the parliamentary system, the president may have significant day-to-day power. When his party controls the majority of seats in the National Assembly the president can operate closely with the parliament and prime minister, and work towards a common agenda. When the National Assembly is controlled by opponents of the President however, the president can find himself marginalized with the opposition party prime minister exercising most of the power. Though the prime minister remains an appointee of the president, the president must obey the rules of parliament, and select a leader from the house's majority holding party. Thus, sometimes the president and prime minister can be allies, sometimes rivals; the latter situation is known as cohabitation. The French semi-presidential system, which can be considered a hybrid between the first two, was developed at the beginning of the Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle. It is used in France, Finland, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sri Lanka and several post-colonial countries which have emulated the French model.

Collective Presidency

Only a tiny minority of modern republics do not have a single head of state; examples include:

Presidents in dictatorships

In dictatorships, the title is frequently taken by self-appointed and/or military-backed leaders. Such is the case in many African states; Idi Amin in Uganda, for example.
President for Life is a title assumed by some dictators to ensure that their authority or legitimacy is never questioned.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla appointed himself in 82 BC to an entirely new office, dictator rei publicae constituendae causa, which was functionally identical to the dictatorate rei gerendae causa except that it lacked any set time limit, although Sulla held this office for over two years before he voluntarily abdicated and retired from public life. The second well-known incident of a leader extending his term indefinitely was Roman dictator Julius Caesar, who made himself "Perpetual Dictator" (commonly mistranslated as 'Dictator-for-life') in 45 BC. His actions would later be mimicked by the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who was appointed "First Consul for life" in 1802.
Ironically, most leaders who proclaim themselves President for Life do not in fact successfully serve a life term. Even so presidents like Alexandre Sabès dit Pétion, Rafael Carrera, Josip Broz Tito and François Duvalier died in office.
The last living person to be officially proclaimed president for life was the late Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan.
Several presidents have ruled until their death, but they have not officially proclaimed themselves as President for Life. For instance, Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania, who ruled until his execution (see Romanian revolution). Archbishop President Makarios became president of Cyprus late in his life (in 1960) and ruled until his death in 1977, having successfully won re-election several times.

Presidential symbols

As the country's head of state, in most countries the president is entitled to certain perquisites, have a prestigious residence; often a lavish mansion or palace, sometimes more than one (e.g. summer and winter residence, country retreat) - for a list see Official residence.
Furthermore in some nations the Presidency enjoys certain symbols of office, such as an official uniform, decorations, a presidential seal, coat of arms, flag and other visible accessories; military honours such as gun salutes, Ruffles and flourishes, and a presidential guard. A common presidential symbol is the presidential sashes worn by Latin American presidents as a symbol of the presidency's continuity, and presenting the sash to the new president. As other countries followed the American Revolution, and deposed their monarchies, president was commonly adopted as the title for the new republican heads of state. The first European president was the president of France, a post created in the Second Republic of 1848. (The First Republic had begun with no separate executive, then established five directors, and finally echoed the ancient Roman Republic by appointing three consuls at its head.)

Presidential ranks

Below a President, there can be a number of vice-presidents. This rank does not hold the same power, but power can be transferred in special circumstances. Normally Vice-Presidents do hold power and special responsibilities below that of the President.

Sub-national presidents

President can also be the title of the chief executive at a lower administrative level, such as the parish presidents of the parishes of the U.S. state of Louisiana, the presiding member of city council for villages in the U.S. state of Illinois, or the municipal presidents of Mexico's municipalities. Perhaps the best known sub-national presidents are the borough presidents of the Five Boroughs of New York City.

Non-governmental presidents

President is also used as a title in some non-governmental organizations.


In French legal terminology, the president of a court consisting of multiple judges is the foremost judge; he chairs the meeting of the court and directs the debates (and this thus addressed as "Mr President", Monsieur le Président, or appropriate feminine forms). In general, a court comprises several chambers, each with its own president; thus the most senior of these is called the "first president" (as in: "the First President of the Court of Cassation is the most senior judge in France"). Similarly in English legal practice the most senior judge in each division uses this title (e.g. President of the Family Division, President of the Court of Appeal).
The Lord President of the Court of Session is head of the judiciary in Scotland, and presiding judge (and Senator) of the College of Justice and Court of Session, as well as being Lord Justice General of Scotland and head of the High Court of Justiciary, the offices having been combined in 1836.


The head of a university or non-profit corporation, particularly in the United States of America, is often known as president. In university systems with multiple independent campuses, the relationship between the roles of president and chancellor can become quite complicated. President is also a title in many corporations. In some cases the president acts as chief operating officer under the direction of the chief executive officer.
In British constitutional practice, the chairman of an Executive Council, acting in such a capacity, is known as a President of the Executive Council. Usually this person is the Governor but is not always so.
Many other organisations, clubs, and committees, both political and non-political are led by Presidents as well. Examples can vary from the President of a political party, to the president of a chamber of commerce, to the President of a students' union and even the president of a high school chess club.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the head of the church is known as the President. Together with his two counselors, they are known as the First Presidency. This pattern is repeated throughout the church in quorums and in other bodies, each of which is led by a president. The Methodist Church in the UK (and also other provinces) is led by the President of the Methodist Council, and assumes the role of leading minister and spokesperson.

Presidential chronologies of United Nations member countries

Sources and additional reading

  • The powers, functions and functioning of presidents were reviewed by six international experts for Australia's Republic Advisory Committee in 1993. Reports by among others Professor Klaus Von Beyme (on Germany), A. G. Noorani (on India), Jim Duffy (on Ireland) and Sir Ellis Clarke (on Trinidad and Tobago) outline the role of various presidencies. The full report is called An Australian Republic: The Options - The Appendices (ISBN 0-644-32589-5)

See also


president in Afrikaans: President
president in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Foresittend
president in Asturian: Presidente
president in Bambara: Jamanatigi
president in Min Nan: Chóng-thóng
president in Banyumasan: Presiden
president in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Прэзыдэнт
president in Bosnian: Predsjednik
president in Bulgarian: Президент
president in Catalan: President
president in Czech: Prezident
president in Welsh: Arlywydd
president in Danish: Præsident
president in German: Präsident
president in Estonian: President
president in Modern Greek (1453-): Πρόεδρος
president in Spanish: Presidente
president in Esperanto: Prezidento
president in Basque: Presidente
president in Persian: رئیس جمهور
president in French: Président
president in Western Frisian: Presidint
president in Galician: Presidente
president in Gan Chinese: 總統
president in Korean: 대통령
president in Hindi: राष्ट्रपति
president in Croatian: Predsjednik
president in Indonesian: Presiden
president in Ossetian: Президент
president in Icelandic: Forseti
president in Italian: Presidente
president in Hebrew: נשיא
president in Georgian: პრეზიდენტი
president in Swahili (macrolanguage): Rais
president in Latin: Praeses
president in Latvian: Prezidents
president in Lithuanian: Prezidentas
president in Hungarian: Elnök
president in Mongolian: Ерөнхийлөгч
president in Dutch: President
president in Japanese: 大統領
president in Norwegian: President
president in Norwegian Nynorsk: President
president in Polish: Prezydent
president in Portuguese: Presidente
president in Romanian: Preşedinte
president in Quechua: Umalliq
president in Russian: Президент
president in Scots: Preses
president in Simple English: President
president in Slovak: Prezident
president in Serbian: Председник
president in Serbo-Croatian: Predsjednik
president in Finnish: Presidentti
president in Swedish: President
president in Tagalog: Pangulo
president in Thai: ประธานาธิบดี
president in Vietnamese: Tổng thống
president in Tajik: Президент
president in Turkish: Cumhurbaşkanı
president in Turkmen: Prezident
president in Udmurt: Президент
president in Ukrainian: Президент
president in Venetian: Presidente
president in Yiddish: פרעזידענט
president in Contenese: 總統
president in Zamboanga Chavacano: Presidente
president in Chinese: 總統

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

academic dean, administration, administrator, archon, chancellor, chief executive, chief executive officer, chief of state, dean, dean of men, dean of women, dewan, doge, executive, executive director, executive officer, executive secretary, grand vizier, head of state, headmaster, headmistress, magistrate, management, managing director, master, officer, official, prefect, premier, prexy, prime minister, principal, provost, rector, secretary, the administration, treasurer, vice-chancellor, vice-president, warden
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