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Difference Between President and Prime Minister

What is the difference between a president and a prime minister? Can we as a country have both at a time? Which position of the two is elected and what about the other one? These are questions that the common citizen would ask when they seek to know their system well.

Those are examples of countries run by a president, prime minister, and both the president and prime mister respectively. This begs the question again on how the president is different from a prime minister.


Who is A President?

The term president is given to a head of state or country, in most republics. Such an individual is usually elected by the citizens or an electoral college after meeting different conditions as set by the constitution of that country. In the United States, for example, one must be above 35 years of age and have lived in the U.S. for 14 years in addition to being a citizen by birth.

The functions of a president are laid out by the constitution of their state and, therefore, vary considerably. Some systems such as the one arising from the Commonwealth wave may have their presidents performing almost the same functions.

Types of Presidential Systems

A president can either be under a:

  • Presidential System: the president serves as the head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. They are either elected by popular vote or an electoral college. Examples include the United States, Kenya, and some South American, Central American, and Asian countries.
  • Semi-presidential System: the president serves alongside a prime minister as it happens in France.
  • Parliamentary System: the president is largely ceremonial since there is a powerful prime minister. Such is the case in India, Austria, Ireland, Germany, and Singapore.


Who is A Prime Minister?

This is either the head of an elected government or a principal minister of a republic, sovereign, or state. Usually, the individual is the head of a cabinet, oversees the cabinet ministers, but is not the chief executive officer or head of state of their respective country.

Where the prime minister is the executive power, for example, in the UK, the qualifying persons appoints the cabinet members, other members within the government, and sets the national agenda. They serve at the behest of either a party or coalition of parties. If it’s a semi-presidential system, the premier is only appointed for the management of the civil service as well as executing the directives of their head of state.

If the system is a parliamentary one, the minister serves with a president who is only a ceremonial head of state. If it’s a constitutional monarchy, the role will be filled by the ruler, who can either be a king or queen.

While the two positions are all about powers and leading a country or state, they have major differences as explained below:

Who It Is

The president is a term used on a head of a sovereign, republic, or state and usually elected by popular vote or by an electoral college. Prime minister, on the other hand, refers to a head of an elected government and head of cabinet either in a presidential, parliamentary, or constitutional monarchy.

The etymology of the Terms

The term president was first used to refer to a head of state between 1649 – 1660 during the Commonwealth of England. Prime minister was first used in the 18th Century for its current usage.

Getting to the Office

For most states, the president can get into the office through any of the following ways:

  • Popular vote where the citizens cast their vote to elect their preferred candidate.
  • Voted by electoral college with members elected by the citizenry.
  • Being elected by the parliament (in a parliamentary republic such as South Africa, Botswana, and Suriname).
  • Collective presidency
  • Dictatorship (self-appointed or military-backed leaders).
  • A prime minister can get into the office by:
  • Being appointed by the head of state (president).
  • Being appointed by a monarchy leader (king or queen).
  • Nomination by the parliament and then appointed by the president.
  • Election by the legislature.
  • Election by popular vote.

Powers and Duties

The common powers and duties of a president include:

  • Head of state.
  • Commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
  • Chief executive officer of the state.
  • Chief of state.
  • Chief diplomat
  • Guardian of the economy.
  • Appointment of cabinet members and other government heads.
  • The common duties of a prime minister include:
  • Being the leader of government business.
  • Directing and overseeing the implementation of government programs.
  • Appointment of members of the government (United Kingdom)
  • Is the principle government figure in UK’s House of Commons (for example in the United Kingdom)

Powers Over Each Other

In most cases, depending on the system, the president can remove a prime minister from office, but the prime minister cannot remove the president from power.


Examples of President Vs. Prime Minister Systems of Government

The most common systems are the United States and United Kingdom systems. The U.S. is headed by a president while the United Kingdom government is headed by a prime minister.

President Vs. Prime Minister: Comparison Table


Summary of President Vs. Prime Minister

Even though the two are political leaders in their capacities, the president and prime minister are no doubt different. A crucial detail to note is that a prime minister is the head of government but not of the state. It is also necessary to remember that a president is the head of a republic, state, or sovereign and is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of their country.


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References :

[0]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canadian_Prime_Minister_Trudeau_and_Secretary_Kerry_Toast_the_U.S.-Canada_Relationship_(25654623456).jpg

[1]Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:President_Barack_Obama.jpg

[2]Study.Com, 2019, https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-us-president-vs-britains-prime-minister-role-similarities-differences.html

[3]History, Voting. "Presidential Election Process | Usagov". Usa.Gov, 2019, https://www.usa.gov/election.

[4]"The 2Nd Article Of The U.S. Constitution". National Constitution Center – The 2Nd Article Of The U.S. Constitution, 2019, https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/articles/article-ii. Accessed 10 May 2019.

[5]"What’S The Difference Between A Prime Minister And A President?". Wonderopolis.Org, 2019, https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/whats-the-difference-between-a-prime-minister-and-a-president.

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