Head of State

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Head of State


the individual who fulfills the functions of the highest executive authority in the state. In monarchical states (such as Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and Iran) the head of state is a hereditary monarch: an emperor, king, prince, grand duke, padishah, and the like; in bourgeois republics he is an elected president. In a number of countries (the USA, some Latin American states) the head of state is simultaneously head of the government. The competence of the head of state and his term of office (in the case of an elected one) are determined by a constitution. Usually the head of state is invested with rather wide powers. He represents the state in international relations, receives foreign diplomats, and, as a rule, is commander in chief of the armed forces. He possesses the right of legislative initiative and, in a number of countries, the right to impose a veto on laws passed by parliament. The right to issue edicts and decrees is his, as well. Usually he is empowered to award orders and other high decorations and to grant pardons. In several countries (such as France and the Federal Republic of Germany) the head of state convenes parliament and has the right to dissolve it as a whole, or one of its chambers.

In actuality the role of the head of state is not the same in various capitalist countries. It is greatest in those countries where the head of state is simultaneously head of the government, that is, in the so-called presidential republics (for example, in the USA and some Latin American countries). In general this phenomenon reflects a tendency characteristic of contemporary imperialist states whereby the power of the executive authority is strengthened at the expense of the representative bodies. It is precisely to this end that the powers of a president are widened, so that in some countries he is being transformed into a personal dictator.

In the majority of socialist states there is no individual who acts as head of state. Rather his functions are executed by the collegial body of the highest representative institution (a presidium or state council). The term of office of this body is the same as that of the representative institution, and its members are chosen from the latter. In those socialist states which have an individual acting as head of state (for example, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia), he is responsible for his actions to the highest representative institution and jointly with it, or on its authorization, performs the functions of the head of state.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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