prime minister

prime minister or premier, chief member of the cabinet in a parliamentary system of government. The prime minister is head of the government, in contrast with the head of state, who may be a constitutional monarch, as in Great Britain, or an elected official, as in the case of the president of India. Procedures governing the selection of the prime minister vary from country to country, but under the system that has evolved in Great Britain (which has provided the model for Commonwealth countries) he is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in Parliament and must by convention be a member of the lower house. The prime minister appoints the other cabinet ministers, makes and coordinates the policy of the government, controls the administration, and dispenses patronage. In major policy areas he must have the support of the legislature; otherwise he and his cabinet are customarily expected either to resign or to dissolve the legislature and call new elections. An individual cabinet minister who is unable to support the prime minister is also expected to resign. In France (under the Fifth Republic) and in a few other countries with parliamentary governments, the powers of the prime minister are considerably less than those described above; most of the executive authority is exercised by the president, while the prime minister plays a comparatively minor role. In the United States the president combines the functions of head of government and head of state.

See B. Carter, The Office of Prime Minister (1956); W. I. Jennings, Cabinet Government (3d ed. 1959); F. W. G. Benemy, The Elected Monarch (1965); S. E. Finer, Comparative Government (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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