The President of the United Islands of Georgeland is Georgeland's Head of State and, in theory, where Georgeland's executive power is vested. In practice, the President is bound by the restrictions and conventions of the Westminster system, and as such has become a figurehead, acting only on the advice of the elected government (with occasional exceptions).
Duties and powers
The President has a number of ceremonial duties and reserve powers, mandated by the Constitution, including:
- Appointing governments: the President commissions a Prime Minister to form a government and administers the oath of office to Prime Ministers and members of the Cabinet. There are strict constitutional limits on who the President can appoint as a minister or Prime Minister - in general, the President can only appoint a Prime Minister with the support of the House of Commons and can only appoint ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.
- Convenes and dissolves Parliament. This action is taken on the advice of the Prime Minister. In theory, the President can refuse a dissolution, but this has never occurred.
- Signs bills into law. The President is formally part of Parliament, and all legislation must bear the President's signature before it becomes law. Theoretically, a President can effectively veto legislation by withholding his or her signature; this has never been tested, as no President has withheld Presidential assent to legislation.
- Receives foreign ambassadors and accredits Georgeland's diplomatic officials. International treaties are signed in the President's name, and on occasion (such as the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Charter, by the President in person.
- Is Commander-in-Chief of the United Islands Defence Force. This power is exercised on the advice of the government but the President holds the authority independently, meaning Cabinet cannot override the President's orders.
- Power of pardon. The President can issue pardons or commute or remit sentences. This power is rarely used, but has been exercised on several occasions. The President does not need Cabinet's approval to exercise this power, but no President has unilaterally issued a pardon or commuted a sentence.
The President is in theory the ruler of the country, and the government acts in his or her name. This is Westminster tradition coupled with constitutional rule, however, and no President has assumed executive power. One President, Susan O'Byrne, arguably held power for one day in 1999.
The President is directly-elected by universal adult suffrage using the same electoral system, aninstant runoff vote, to serve a four-year term. From 1929 until 1958, the President was directly-elected in a national vote. This gradually became cumbersome, as Presidential elections were expensive and elected a figurehead only. From 1958, the President was chosen by a 2/3 majority vote of each house of Parliament, generally by agreement between the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. In 2004, constitutional reforms reinstated an elected Presidency, effective in 2008. See Georgeland Presidential election, 2008.
There is no constitutional limit on the number of terms a President may serve.
The the event the President leave the country or temporarily steps down, the most senior (i.e. longest serving) state Governor assumes the powers of the Presidency under the constitution. The appointment is temporary, and the office must be filled by a permanent replacement within 90 days.
The Constitution gives Parliament the power to name a successor if the Presidency is to be vacant for longer than 90 days, such as in the case of death or resignation.
Between 1929 and 1958, there was no provision for a vacancy in the Presidency. In the rare event a President died or resigned, the Presidency was simply vacant, with the Prime Minister and Chief Justice performing some of the President's duties. In 1958, the Prime Minister was made de facto Vice President, and whenever a vacancy occurred, the Prime Minister would become Acting President until a new one was appointed.
In 2003, the Constitution was amended to allow the most senior state governor to assume the powers of the Presidency until a new President is chosen. This is still the case despite alteration of the presidential selection process.
Official residence, salute, style and address
The President officially resides in Martin Hall, a large mansion in central Topstad. The building was formerly the private residence of Victor Martin, Georgeland's first President, who donated the building to the federal government.
The President is formally styled His/Her Excellency; however, this is rarely used as an official form of address. The President is referred to as 'Mr. President' or 'Madam President' in normal conversation.
The Presidential salute is played at official occasions attended by the President. It consists of a ten-bar instrumental salute composed by John Raymond Holliday in 1904 and partly originally used as the Royal Salute. The President's Salute is the first four bars of My Country, Georgeland's national anthem, followed by the last two bars of the well-known hymn and English anthem Jerusalem.
Oath of office
Upon taking office, all Presidents recite the following oath of office:
I, <NAME>, in the presence of almighty God, do solemly declare to faithfully and honourably execute my duties as President of Georgeland, to uphold the Constitution of our land and to govern wisely in the interests of our nation and for the glory of our people. Amen.
The reference to God and the word Amen are optional and can be deleted from the oath. Presidents Barnard, Davis, Andrews and Reynolds did not include those words.
The oath of office was originally written by Victor Martin. President John Grundy did not take an oath of office at all. In 1944, Parliament mandated all Presidents would take an oath and adopted Martin's oath as the official one.
Removal from office
The President can be removed from office by a two-thirds majority vote in each House of Parliament. In such an event, the Presidency is simply "declared vacant" and filled by the designated successor on a temporary basis. The President cannot be "impeached" as such, since the impeachment process is a criminal trial. Nevertheless, this is sometimes referred to as impeachment. The Constitution declares that Parliament can only vote to remove the President unless the President has breached the law or committed misdemeanours likely to bring the office into ill repute. The circumstances under which a President could be removed have been a topic of debate among Constitutional scholars for some time.
No President has been removed from office. There have been proposals to remove two Presidents - John Grundy in 1945 and Hank Reynolds in 2004. Of these, only the attempt to remove Reynolds actually came to a vote. In 2004, the House of Commons voted in favour of removing Reynolds after allegations he had been involved with a number of prostitutes of both genders and significant embarrassment had been caused to the Presidency. President Reynolds resigned before the Senate vote, however, and so was not removed from office by Parliament.
Security and transportation
The President is protected by a number of bodyguards provided by FISIA, Georgeland's federal law enforcement agency. The exact arrangement of the President's security is kept secret. Martin Hall's guards are armed, however, and the security around the building is known to be tight but not intrusive. The President travels in an official limousine, which always bears the Presidential flag; the limousine is usually afforded a police escort.
For air travel, the President is afforded the use of an Air Force jet, a modified Airbus A310. The Presidential aircraft is always referred to by the callsign Aquamarine when the President is aboard. The Air Force retains several of these jets - an identical aircraft is also used by the Prime Minister.
Prior to 1975, the President also had an official yacht, Aquamarine 2. The yacht was decommissioned in that year and not replaced.
Georgeland's system of government is to a great extent modelled on the Westminster system, which has executive power invested in a monarch or their representative. This was the literal case in Georgeland from the mid-nineteenth century until 1929, when Georgeland, though it had responsible government, was a colony and later a Dominion of the United Kingdom and thus had its own viceroy - from 1784 until 1891 Britain was represented by a colonial Governor, and afterwards by a Governor-General. The powers of the Governor/Governor-General in most respects matched those exercised by the Crown.
In the late 1920s, when the issue of republicanism became prominent and the prospect of declaring the country a republic was first seriously canvassed, there was considerable debate about the powers and duties of the country's republican Head of State. Some, such as Oscar Lyne, George Capp and George Garretty argued for a more U.S.-style Executive Presidency, wheras moderates like Thomas Shaw argued for a minimal change, with a President to be appointed by Parliament. A compromise was eventually reached by which Parliament, Cabinet and the Prime Minister would retain most powers, while the President, though they would be directly elected, would act only on the advice of the government. The changes were adopted (narrowly) by referendum and made part of the country's constitution.
The office of President came into existence on July 1, 1929, celebrated as Republic Day in Georgeland. One month earlier, the country held its first presidential election, in which specific rules were laid town to prevent the candidates from over-politicising the election. First and foremost, organised political parties were banned from standing candidates for President, Presidential candidates were not permitted to have been members of political parties or held memberships less than five years before the election, and by agreement both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition enforced a "gag rule" which prevented them, or any MPs, from actively supporting or campaigning for any candidate. The rules established a precedent which remained for much of Georgeland's presidential history.
The winner of the first presidential election was businessman and philanthropist Victor Martin, who defeated four other candidates, most notably Joseph Abbott, and won 65% of the vote. Martin, who campaigned with his own money, used the office to be a national leader and figurehead, though he also campaigned for improvement in living conditions. As he became President months before the Great Depression, Martin used the Presidency as a platform to boost national morale and economic conditions. Martin was re-elected in 1933 unopposed, the only time in history this has occurred. In 1937 he stood for a third term and again defeated Joseph Abbott, by an even larger margin than he had in 1929.
Martin stood down as President in 1941, having declined to seek a fourth term (the government of Fenton Thomas had wanted Martin to stay on). He was succeeded by John Grundy, a former union organiser who, though he had not been a member for many years, had some ties to both the Labour Party, and Marxist movements. By the time of his election he was an academic and diplomat, having served in the Diplomatic Corps with distinction, even by the admission of the Conservatives, who nonetheless attacked Grundy's credentials. Grundy was defeated for re-election in 1945, losing to Arthur Pryde by a large margin. Pryde, who had been one of Georgeland's top commanders during the Second World War, redefined the Presidency in many ways as a figurehead - though an expert in military affairs, Pryde refused to speak about political issues and in most respects the President's traditional political neutrality dates from this time. Pryde served just one term in office, before being replaced by Jeffrey Caxton in 1949. Caxton, a judge, continued the staunchly neutral position Pryde had established. Caxton was re-elected in 1953.
By 1956, the office of President had clearly evolved into a figurehead, leading many to question the expense of holding elections for the office. One of these people was Nathan Keegan, Prime Minister at the time, who announced, shortly before the 1957 presidential election, that he would put to referendum a plan to make the Presidency an appointed position. The role of the President dominated the 1957 election, which Caxton won, despite his support for the moves to change his position from an elected one to an appointed one. Caxton's support for the move saw it put to referendum and passed in April 1958. Caxton declared he would resign effective July 1 of that year, and Parliament voted to confirm his replacement, choosing war hero Air Marshall Arthur Brittan as its nominee. The Parliament would continue to choose the President for the next half-century.
As the Presidency under Brittan and his successor, Admiral William Addison, evolved into a completely ceremonial office, the profile of the President dwindled considerably. In 1970, the government went some way to addressing this by appointing Lance Lester Rothschild to the Presidency. Rothschild, a former Olympian and popular personality, became in many ways the first of a new brand of "celebrity" Presidents. Rothschild's two predecessors had both been military men, but with the appointment of Rothschild the nature of the office changed again, from an obscure ceremonial position to one of national leadership. The telegenic Rothschild was in many ways an ideal choice for an age when TV had become the overwhelmingly most popular source of information and entertainment. In 1976, Rothschild died in office, and the nation went into mourning. His replacement, William Barnard, a career diplomat, was less popular but nonetheless left his mark on the office as a neutral, diplomatic figurehead.
In 1999, Parliament appointed Susan O'Byrne to the office. O'Byrne thus became the first woman to become President. Later that same year, a constitutional crisis erupted when the ruling United Islands Labour Party split and lost control of the House of Commons. President O'Byrne appointed the Conservative leader, Michael Fisch as leader of a caretaker government the next day. However, during the interim period, it is often suggested O'Byrne herself was the sole wielder of executive power, as there is a gap between the termination of one government's appointment and the beginning of another. For this reason, O'Byrne is often described as the first President to assume executive authority.
O'Byrne's term ended on January 1, 2003. Her replacement was Admiral Hank Reynolds, the first military officer to hold the post since Addison. Reynolds was a popular and influential choice, though he kept a low profile and made few public appearances.
In September 2003, the government, with opposition support, enacted a constitutional reform which altered the succession to the Presidency. Since 1958, the Prime Minister had assumed the President's powers when the Presidency fell vacant. The reform, passed by Parliament in October, saw the most senior (longest-serving) state Governor assume that role, as they already did when the President was temporarily absent.
In January 2004, only a year after his appointment, Reynolds was hit by allegations revealed by the Topstad Times newspaper regarding his personal affairs. It was reported that Reynolds had unlawfully used government cars, reserved for official use, to bring both male and female prostitutes to Martin Hall and other locations for the purposes of solicitation. Though prostitution was and remains technically legal in the Federal District, the allegations, which Reynolds denied, were seen by the opposition and many others to 'bring the Presidency into disrepute'. On these grounds, the Conservatives introduced a motion to remove Reynolds from office, even as a police investigation was underway. Though he urged caution, then-Prime Minister Campbell Rhodes did not interfere with the move and allowed a conscience vote in the Commons. The vote passed, putting Reynolds into a difficult position. Rather than wait for the Senate to confirm the vote and thus remove him, Reynolds elected to resign from office on February 3. Police later concluded their investigation and charged Reynolds with six counts of misuse of government property. On March 21, 2006, Reynolds was acquitted on technical grounds.
Following Reynolds' resignation, the recent constitutional amendment gave the position of Acting President to the longest-serving state Governor. The Chief Justice of Georgeland, George McKell, and the Solicitor-General both agreed that this was East Mainland's Charlotte Lang, as she had become Governor of Mainland slightly before Sandra Wood of Long Island, even though that state no longer existed. Lang was therefore given the position of Acting President.
The government led by Campbell Rhodes nominated Lang to succeed Reynolds permanently. However, in a defiance of tradition, Conservative opposition leader Sam Richardson refused to allow a vote on the matter in the House of Commons unless his proposals for an elected President were put to referendum. The stalemate dragged on for weeks, with opinion heavily divided. Eventually, Richardson relented in exchange for a promise to consider the moves at the upcoming 2004 Georgeland Constitutional Convention, and Lang was chosen President by Parliament.
The convention, which had been called months earlier by the government to resolve several issues relating to governance, including considering a switch to a more representative electoral system, developed three models of government. The most popular of these replaced the appointed President with one elected directly by suffrage, fore which Richardson heavily campaigned. Rhodes and the government campaigned against the model, which with the others was put to referendum. The referendum was carried and became part of the Constitution, with an election scheduled to be held at the conclusion of Lang's term.
In May 2007, Lang declared she would not seek election and the race became open. The 2008 presidential election was the first held in Georgeland for 51 years and the first in which political parties were permitted to take part. A strong showing by Georgeland Alliance candidate Lois Daniels upset the volatile race between Rhodes, for the Liberal Democrats, and Leyton Douglas for the Tories. Daniels eventually defeated Rhodes on preferences to become Georgeland's first elected President for more than half a century and the first ever to represent a political party.
Daniels declined to seek a second term, and Eileen Purves of the Liberal Democrats was elected to replace her in May 2012.
Living former Presidents
Former Presidents of Georgeland retain the style His/Her Excellency and the title Mr/Madam President for life. They are also, by tradition, awarded the honorific Right Honourable.
There are currently 3 living ex-Presidents: