Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the executive is the branch of a government charged with implementing, or executing, the law. The de facto most senior figure in an executive is referred to as the head of government. The executive may be referred to as the administration, in presidential systems, or simply as the government, in parliamentary systems.
Executives under different systems
- In presidential systems executive authority is exercised by a president who is also head of state. The president will not usually be designated by the legislature, and may instead be elected directly or (in the case of the President of the United States) indirectly, by an electoral college. Under presidential systems the legislature and the executive are formally distinct, and it is usually expressly forbidden for the president and other executive officers to be members of the legislature.
- In parliamentary systems executive authority is exercised by a cabinet headed by an official with a title such as prime minister or premier. The prime minister is usually designated by the lower house of the legislature, and the cabinet and prime minister may be removed at any time by a vote of no confidence in the legislature. Under a parliamentary system the head of state is often notionally the head of the executive but is bound, by either law or custom, to always act on the advice of the cabinet or prime minister. Under such systems the distinction between the legislature and executive is necessarily not clear cut, and it is usually an express requirement that members of the executive also hold seats in the legislature.
- In a semi-presidential system executive power is shared between the head of state and a premier.
Role of the executive
It is usually the role of the executive to:
- Enforce the law. To achieve this the executive administers the prisons and the police force, and prosecutes criminals in the name of the state.
- Conduct the foreign relations of the state.
- Command the armed forces.
- Appoint state officials, including judges and diplomats.
- Administer government departments and public services.
- Issue executive orders (also known as secondary legislation, ordinances, edicts or decrees).
Most constitutions require that certain executive powers may only be exercised in conjunction with the legislature. For example, often the consent of the legislature is required to ratify treaties, appoint important officials, or to declare war. In the United Kingdom, however, the executive is exempt from most such limitations under the royal prerogative.