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In politics, a figurehead is a person who ''
de jure In law and government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature, ...
'' (in name or by law) appears to hold an important and often supremely powerful title or office, yet ''
de facto ''De facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with '' de jure'' ("by law"), which refers to th ...
'' (in reality) exercises little to no actual power. This usually means that they are
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "
he head of state He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun) In Modern English, ''he'' is a Grammatical number, singular, Grammatical gender, masculine, Grammatical person, third-person personal pronoun, pronoun. Morphology In Standard English, Standard M ...
being an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international perso ...
, but not
head of government The head of government is either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, autonomous region, or other government who often presides over a cabinet (gover ...
. The
metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide (or obscure) clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas. Metaphors are often compared with ...
derives from the carved
figurehead In politics, a figurehead is a person who '' de jure'' (in name or by law) appears to hold an important and often supremely powerful title or office, yet ''de facto In law and government, ''de facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that ...
at the prow of a sailing ship.


Examples

Monarchs in some
constitutional monarchies A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy A monarchy is a form of government in which a person, the monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. ...
, and
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a Chief Executive Officer, chi ...
s in parliamentary republics are often considered to be figureheads. Commonly cited figureheads include Queen
Elizabeth II Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; born 21 April 1926) is Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms. Elizabeth was born in Mayfair, London, as the first child of the Duke of York, Duke and Duchess of York (later Kin ...

Elizabeth II
, who is queen of 15
Commonwealth realm A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state that has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Each realm functions as an independent state, equal with the other realms. In 1952, Elizabeth II was the monarch and head of state of seven ind ...
s and
head of the Commonwealth The Head of the Commonwealth is the "symbol of the free association of independent member nations" of the Commonwealth of Nations A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically i ...
, but has no power over the nations in which she is not head of government and does not exercise power in her own realms on her own initiative. Other figureheads include the
Emperor of Japan The Emperor of Japan is the monarch and the head of the Imperial House of Japan, Imperial Family of Japan. Under the Constitution of Japan, he is defined as the symbol of the Japanese state and the unity of the Japanese people, and his position ...
and the
King of Sweden The monarchy of Sweden concerns the monarchical head of state of Sweden,See the #IOG, Instrument of Government, Chapter 1, Article 5. which is a constitutional monarchy, constitutional and hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary system.Parliame ...
, as well as
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a Chief Executive Officer, chi ...
s in a majority of
parliamentary republicThe Parliamentary Republic can refer to: * A republican form of government with a Parliamentary system A parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy is a system of democracy, democratic government, governance of a sovereign state, state (o ...
s, such as the presidents of
India India (Hindi: ), officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous country, the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest ...
,
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, translit=Yīsrāʾēl; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, translit=ʾIsrāʾīl), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a ...
,
Bangladesh Bangladesh (; bn, বাংলাদেশ, ), officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, eighth-most populous country in the world, with a populati ...
,
Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, Elláda, ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeastern Europe Southeast Europe or Southeastern Europe () is a geographical region of Europe Europe is a continent A contin ...
,
Hungary Hungary ( hu, Magyarország ) is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence ...
,
Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , languages_type = Official language , languages = German language, German , demonym = Germans, German , government_ ...
,
Austria Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a landlocked country in the southern part of Central Europe, located on the Eastern Alps. It is composed of nine States of Austria, federated states, one of which is Vienna, Austria's ca ...
,
Pakistan Pakistan, . Pronounced variably in English as , , , and . officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia South Asia is the southern region of Asia, which is defined in both geography, geographical and culture, e ...
, and
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bord ...
. Some head of states in
one-party A one-party state, single-party state, one-party system, or single-party system is a type of unitary state A unitary state is a State (polity), state governed as a single entity in which the central government is ultimately supreme. Unitary st ...
communist states A communist state, also known as a Marxist–Leninist state, is a one-party state that is administered and governed by a communist party guided by Marxism–Leninism. Marxism–Leninism was the Ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Uni ...

communist states
also have limited powers, such as President of China when not simultaneously holding the CCP General Secretary and CMC Chairman posts. During the crisis of the
March on Rome The March on Rome ( it, Marcia su Roma) was an organized mass demonstration in October 1922 which resulted in Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party (PNF) ascending to power in the Kingdom of Italy The Kingdom of Italy ( it, Regno d'Itali ...

March on Rome
in 1922, King
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele Ferdinando Maria Gennaro di Savoia; it, Vittorio Emanuele III, sq, Viktor Emanueli III, amh, ቪቶርዮ አማኑኤል ''Vītoriyo Āmanu’ēli''; 11 November 1869 – 28 December 1947) reigned as K ...

Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
, though a figurehead, played a key role in handing power to Benito Mussolini. He also played a key role in the dismissal of Mussolini in 1943. Since the abolition of the monarchy in Italy and the establishment of a republic in 1946, the
president of Italy The president of Italy, officially denoted as President of the Italian Republic ( it, Presidente della Repubblica Italiana) is the head of state of Italy. In that role, the officeholder represents national unity, guarantees that Politics of Italy ...
has assumed most of the ceremonial functions of the previous kings. However, the Italian president retains large powers in appointing a prime minister of their choice when there is no clear
majority government A majority government refers to one or multiple governing parties that hold an absolute majority of seats in legislature A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of s ...
in parliament, creating a so-called "president's
cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent glass sheets or transparent polycarbonate sheets * Filing ...
" (a
technocratic Technocracy is a system of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists ...
cabinet). For example, the former prime minister of Italy, Senator
Mario Monti Mario Monti, (born 19 March 1943) is an Italian economist An economist is a practitioner in the social sciences, social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics ...

Mario Monti
, was appointed by President
Giorgio Napolitano Giorgio Napolitano (; born 29 June 1925) is an Italian politician who served as the 11th President of Italy from 2006 to 2015, and the only Italian president to be reelected to the presidency. Due to his dominant position in Italian politics, som ...

Giorgio Napolitano
as a
lifetime-senator
lifetime-senator
and then as prime minister, not after a new election. King
Juan Carlos I of Spain Juan Carlos I (;, * ca, Joan Carles I, * gl, Xoán Carlos I, Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón, born 5 January 1938) is a member of the Spanish royal family who reigned as King of Spain from November 1975 until his ...
, also largely considered a figurehead, had a key role in defending the newborn Spanish democracy and foiling the attempted ''
coup d'état A coup d'état (; French for "blow of state") or coup is the removal and seizure of a government and its powers. Typically, it is an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a political faction, the military, or a dictator. Many scholars co ...
'' known as " 23-F" in 1981.


As a derogatory term

The word can also have more sinister overtones, and refer to a powerful leader, who should be exercising full authority, who is actually being controlled by a more powerful figure behind the throne.


See also

*''
de jure In law and government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature, ...
'' *
Executive (government) The executive (short for executive branch or executive power) is the part of government that enforces law, and has Moral responsibility, responsibility for the governance of a State (polity), state. In political systems based on the principle o ...
*
Head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "
he head of state He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun) In Modern English, ''he'' is a Grammatical number, singular, Grammatical gender, masculine, Grammatical person, third-person personal pronoun, pronoun. Morphology In Standard English, Standard M ...
being an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international perso ...
* Post turtle


References

{{reflist Metaphors referring to ships Positions of authority Political metaphors referring to people