World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Figurehead (metaphor)

Article Id: WHEBN0017185425
Reproduction Date:

Title: Figurehead (metaphor)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Folk music, Woody Guthrie, Philippe Pétain, J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, Timeline of Chinese history, President of Israel, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Luang Prabang, Han Suk-kyu, Rightful Heir
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Figurehead (metaphor)

For carved figure at the prow of a ship, see Figurehead (object).

In politics, a figurehead is a person who holds de jure an important (often supremely powerful) title or office yet de facto executes little actual power, most commonly limited by convention rather than law. The metaphor derives from the carved figurehead at the prow of a sailing ship. Commonly cited figureheads include Queen Elizabeth II's[1][2] role as Queen of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms and head of the Commonwealth overall; she has an important office title, but no power over the nations in which she is not head of state. The Queen also holds all powers of state in her kingdoms, but rarely exercises them. The last time the Queen exercised her sovereign powers was as the Queen of Australia during the 1975 Constitutional Crisis. Other figureheads are the Emperor Akihito of Japan, or presidents in some parliamentary republics, such as the President of Israel, President of Bangladesh, President of Greece, President of Germany, President of Pakistan, and the President of the People's Republic of China (without CPC General Secretary post).

While the authority of a figurehead is in practice generally symbolic or ceremonial, public opinion, respect for the office or the office holder and access to high levels of government can give them significant influence on events. In those systems of government where the head of state is in practice a figurehead, they are also generally the titular commanders in chief of the nation's defence forces.

Sometimes a figurehead can be exploited in times of emergency. For example, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used the figurehead President of India to issue unilateral decrees that allowed her to bypass parliament when it no longer supported her.

During the crisis of the March on Rome in 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, though a figurehead, played a key role in handing power to Benito Mussolini.

More than 20 years later, the same King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy played a key role in the dismissal of Benito Mussolini in 1943. Since the abolition of monarchy in Italy and the establishment of a republic in 1948, the Italian President assumed most of the ceremonial functions of the previous kings; however, the Italian President retains large powers in appointing a prime minister of his choice when in parliament there's no clear majority, creating a so-called "president's cabinet". For example, the actual (2013) Prime Minister of Italy, Sen Mario Monti, was not elected but appointed by the Italian President (Giorgio Napolitano) as a lifetime-senator and then as Prime Minister of the country.

Conversely, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, also a figurehead, had in 1981 a key role in defending the newborn Spanish democracy and foiling the attempted coup d'état, known as "23-F".

As a derogatory term

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


See also

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.