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(This is a simplified version of the first chapter of Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka, published by Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, in 2005)

Generally by government we mean those who take decisions on behalf of a country. However the country itself is different from the government. Not everybody supports the government of his country. We must distinguish then between the State, to which we all owe loyalty, and the actions of government. The Head of State is the symbol of that State. Since he officially represents its citizens, his role as Head of State demands the allegiance of all citizens.


There are basically two forms of State, Republics and Monarchies. In a monarchy, the Head of State is a King or Queen. Earlier States in effect belonged to monarchs. In theory, that is the case even now, though in fact Kings usually have no real authority. This generally belongs to a separate head of government chosen by the people, though in theory acting for the monarch.

England and Japan are examples of monarchies where executive power belongs to a Prime Minister elected by the people. But there are also monarchies, such as Brunei, where the monarch has executive power and is Head of Government as well as Head of State.


A Republic, as the word indicates, is a public body. It belongs to its people and its Head of State, generally called the President, represents the people. In some countries, the Presidency is a formal position, with little power like the British Queen. India and Germany are example of this.

In such cases the President is not elected directly by the people. In some Republics, such as the United States of America, the President is elected by the people and has the dominant Executive power. In others, such as Sri Lanka or France, the President is elected by the people and has Executive power, but also works with a Prime Minister.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2010
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