The “head of government” is the person leading it. He has a title like prime minister or chancellor. This person might also be head of state, in which case they’ll have a title like king, emperor, or president. Be aware that the duties of a role, such as president, change from country to country. This means world builders have some leeway to give or take away rights from someone should our situation require it.
Writers tend to state someone’s title without providing much idea on the person’s powers. Some of this is natural to avoid some potentially boring exposition, but it might also be a lack of thought given to this subject. There are many potential acts various heads of government can do and it’s worth researching them to gain some idea. For example:
- Can they veto laws or sign laws into existence by themselves?
- Can they be booted from office? By who? The congress or a popular vote?
- Are they protected from prosecution?
- Can they be executed?
- Can they raise and lower taxes?
- Do they need permission or cooperation from others in government to get things done?
- Can they get away with conflicts of interest?
- Can they declare war?
- Can they oppress/suppress media, communications, and the people?
- Are there exceptions to any of this?
Regardless of our decisions, I recommend a scene giving some idea of the person’s limits. They could be in a bad mood because they’re thinking about laws that constrain them from doing something. They can think about what consequences they might face. Rather than coming across as exposition, it sheds light on their turmoil, obligations, conflicts, and character, hopefully all of it relating to the present storyline and whatever is bothering them right now.
For example, “As the steward departed, leaving him alone, King Davos hurled his full goblet at the wall, red wine splattering like the blood he wanted to spill. It dripped down the painting of his grandfather, which seemed appropriate. What good was all this power if he couldn’t quash a rebellion? He snorted in derision, powerless to crush anything more than the golden cup rolling around the polished floor. He was a useless head of state who knighted star fighters and blessed new warships. Prime Minister Kier had all the power, making his puppets in the parliament dance to his merry tune.
“The Davos line deserved better. That damn grandfather had signed away all their rights to parliament, the last act of the last absolute monarch. Maybe the time had come to wrest power back once more. He smiled coldly, knowing just the right people to stage a massacre. That new neutron bomb he’d secretly had developed would end this government once and for all. He could frame the rebels, too. And in the power vacuum to follow, who but dear old King Davos would the people turn to? He suddenly lamented the spilled wine. Revenge was thirsty work.”
Such a passage not only gives us insight into a character, but their situation and how their role is impacted by history and their form of government. It’s arguably better than just calling the guy King Davos and never commenting on any of it. Providing vividness to our readers requires having clarity ourselves. This chapter aims to provide this.
It can be assumed that if a sovereign power has a prime minister as head of government, there’s also a ceremonial head of state who has less power. If you’ve ever wondered why the U.S. President (head of state and head of government) regularly meets with Britain’s Prime Minister instead of the Queen of England, it’s because those meetings are between heads of government. If the President and Queen meet, it is ceremonial, as heads of state.
Prime ministers can also have other titles and are sometimes temporarily a minister of something else (see next section), particularly in times of war (Minister of Defense). Some heads of government serve a set period of years while others can remain in power indefinitely; it depends on what the sovereign power (or the author) has decided on and passed into law. The head of government has an official residence like a head of state, though not nearly as grand. This home is well known, having a recognized name, similar to the White House in the United States. That’s also the head of state residence, but you get the idea.
There are sometimes multiple, other “ministers,” each overseeing a different area like finance, defense, or foreign affairs. Or wizardry. Or interstellar travel. They usually have simple titles like Minister of Space. The Harry Potter series is full of ministers, like the Minister of Magic.