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A governor is, in most cases, an individual public official with the power to govern the executive branch of a non-sovereign or sub-national level of government, ranking under the head of state. In federations, governor may be the title of the politician who governs a constituent state and may be either appointed or elected. The power of the individual governor can vary dramatically between political systems, with some governors having only nominal, largely ceremonial power, while others have complete power over the entire government.
The title Governor is less common in parliamentary systems such as in some European nations and many of their former colonies, which use titles such as President of the Regional Council in France, President of the Regional Junta (commonly called Governatore in recent years) in Italy and Ministerpräsident in Germany, where in some states there are governorates (German: Regierungsbezirke) as sub-state administrative regions. Other countries using different titles for sub-national units include Mexico, United States and Switzerland.
Historically, the title can also apply to executive officials acting as representatives of a chartered company which has been granted exercise of sovereignty in a colonial area, such as the British East India Company or the Dutch East India Company. These companies operate as a major state within a state with its own armed forces.
There can also be non-political governors: high-ranking officials in private or similar governance such as commercial and non-profit management, styled governor(s), who simply govern an institution, such as a corporation or a bank. For example, in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries there are prison governors ("wardens" in the United States), school governors and bank governors.
The adjective pertaining to a governor is gubernatorial, from the Latin root gubernare. The historical female form is governess, though female officials are referred to by the gender-neutral form governor (without the gender specific suffix) of the noun to avoid confusion with other meanings of the term.
- 1 Pre-Roman empires
- 2 Holy Roman/ Habsburg Empires and successor states
- 3 Turkish rule
- 4 British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations
- 4.1 Vice-Regal Governors
- 4.2 Elsewhere in the Commonwealth
- 5 Other colonial empires
- 6 Russia and former Soviet Union
- 7 Other European countries and empires
- 8 Other modern Asian countries
- 9 Other modern countries in North America
- 10 Other modern countries in South America
- 11 Modern equivalents
- 12 Other meanings of the word
- 13 See also
- 14 References
Though the legal and administrative framework of provinces, each administrated by a governor, was created by the Romans, the term governor has been a convenient term for historians to use in describing similar systems in antiquity. Indeed, many regions of the pre-Roman antiquity were ultimately replaced by Roman 'standardized' provincial governments after their conquest by Rome.
- In Pharaonic times, the governors of each of dozens of provinces in the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt (called "nomes" by the Greeks, and whose names often alluded to local patterns of religious worship) are usually known by the Greek word
Pre- and Hellenistic satraps
- Media and Achaemenid Persia introduced the satrapy, probably inspired by the Assyrian / Babylonian examples
- Alexander the Great and equally Hellenistic diadoch kingdoms, mainly Seleucids (greater Syria) and Lagids ('Ptolemies' in Hellenistic Egypt)
- in later Persia, again under Iranian dynasties:
In ancient Rome
From the creation of the earliest Roman subject provinces a governor was appointed each year to administer each of them. The core function of a Roman governor was as a magistrate or judge, and the management of taxation and public spending in their area.
Under the Republic and the early Empire, however, a governor also commanded military forces in his province. Republican governors were all men who had served in senior magistracies (the consulate or praetorship) in Rome in the previous year, and carried related titles as governor (proconsul or propraetor). The first Emperor, Octavianus Augustus (who acquired or settled a number of new territories; officially his style was republican: Princeps civitatis), divided the provinces into two categories; the traditionally prestigious governorships remained as before (in what have become known as "senatorial" provinces), while in a range of others he retained the formal governorships himself, delegating the actual task of administration to appointees (usually with the title legatus Augusti). The legatus sometimes would appoint a prefect (later procurator), usually a man of equestrian rank, to act as his deputy in a subregion of the larger province: the infamous character of Pontius Pilate in the Christian Gospels was a governor of this sort.
A special case was Egypt, a rich 'private' domain and vital granary, where the Emperor almost inherited the theocratic status of a Pharaoh. The Emperor was represented there by a governor sui generis styled praefectus augustalis, a title evoking the religious cult of the Emperor.
Emperors Diocletian (see Tetrarchy) and Constantine in the third and fourth centuries AD carried out a root and branch reorganisation of the administration with two main features:
- Provinces were divided up and became much more numerous (Italy itself, before the 'colonizing homeland', was brought into the system for the first time); they were then grouped into dioceses, and the dioceses in turn into four praetorian prefectures (originally each under a residing co-emperor);
- Military responsibilities were removed from governors and given to new officials called comes rei militaris (the comital title was also granted to many court and civilian administrative positions) or dux, later also magister militum.
The prestige governorships of Africa and Asia remained with the title proconsul, and the special right to refer matters directly to the Emperor; the praefectus augustalis in Alexandria and the comes Orientis in Antioch also retained special titles. Otherwise the governors of provinces had various titles, some known as consularis, some as corrector, some as praeses. Apart from Egypt and the East (Oriens – viz greater Syria), each diocese was directed by a governor known as a vicarius. The prefectures were directed by praefecti praetorio (greatly transformed in their functions from their role in the early Empire).
This system survived with few significant changes until the collapse of the empire in the West, and in the East the breakdown of order with the Persian and Arab invasions of the seventh century. At that stage a new kind of governor emerged, the Strategos a role leading the themes which replaced provinces at this point, and involving a return to the amalgamation of civil and military office which had been the practice under the Republic and the early Empire.
While the Roman administration in the West was largely destroyed in the barbarian invasions, its model was remembered, and would again be very influential through two particular vehicles: Roman law and the Christian Church.
Holy Roman/ Habsburg Empires and successor states
In the Ottoman Empire, all Pashas (generals) administered a province of the Great Sultan's vast empire, with specific titles (such as Mutessaryf; Vali = Wāli was often maintained or even revived in oriental successor states; cfr. Beilerbei (rendered as Governor-general, as he is appointed above several provinces under individual governors) and Dey)
British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations
In the British Empire a governor was originally an official appointed by the British monarch (or in fact the cabinet) to oversee one of his colonies and was the (sometimes notional) head of the colonial administration. A governor's power could diminish as the colony gained more responsible government vested in such institutions as an Executive Council to help with the colony's administration, and in a further stage of self-government, Legislative Councils and/or Assemblies, in which the Governor often had a role.
Today crown colonies of the United Kingdom continue to be administered by a governor, who holds varying degrees of power. Because of the different constitutional histories of the former colonies of the United Kingdom, the term "Governor" now refers to officials with differing amounts of power.
Administrators, Commissioners and High Commissioners exercise similar powers to Governors. (Note: such High Commissioners are not to be confused with the High Commissioners who are the equivalent of Ambassadors between Commonwealth states).
Frequently the name 'Government House' is given to Governors' residences.
- The term can also be used in a more generic sense, especially for compound titles which include it: Governor-General and Lieutenant-Governor.
United Kingdom overseas territories
In the United Kingdom's remaining overseas territories the governor is normally a direct appointee of the British Government and plays an active role in governing and lawmaking (though usually with the advice of elected local representatives). The Governor's chief responsibility is for the Defence and External Affairs of the colony.
In Australia, each state has the governor as its formal representative of the Queen as head of the state government. It is not a political office but a ceremonial office. Each state governor is appointed by the Queen of Australia on the advice of the Premier who is the political chief executive of the state government (until 1986, state governors were appointed by the Queen of the United Kingdom on the advice of the British Government). State Governors have emergency reserve powers but these are rarely used. The Territories of Australia other than the ACT have Administrators instead of governors, who are appointed formally by the Governor-General. The Governor-General is the representative of and appointed by the Queen of Australia at a federal level on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia.
As with the Governors-General of Australia and other Commonwealth Realms, State Governors usually exercise their power only on the advice of a government minister.
In Canada, there are governors at the federal and provincial levels of government who, within their jurisdictions, act as viceroys to the Queen of Canada, who is Canada's Head of State. The federal governor is the Governor General of Canada, and the governor of each province is the Lieutenant Governor. The Governor General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada, whereas the lieutenant governors are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The role of a governor in Canada is largely ceremonial, although they do retain the authority to exercise reserve powers in exceptional circumstances.
Each of the three territories is headed by a commissioner appointed by the Prime Minister. Unlike provincial lieutenant governors, they are not viceroys, but rather representatives of the federal government.
Within the United Kingdom
Elsewhere in the Commonwealth
In India each state has a ceremonial Governor appointed by the President of India. These Governors are different from the Governors who controlled the British-controlled portions of the Indian Empire (as opposed to the princely states) prior to 1947.
Governor is the head of the state. Generally, a Governor is appointed for each state, but after the 7th Constitutional Amendment, 1956, a Governor can be appointed for more than one state.
Governors are the chief executive officers of the Counties and are akin to the National Government's President. They oversee an appointed committee of executives who manage a range of portfolios such as:
- County health services
- Cultural activities, public entertainment and public amenities
- County Transport
- Animal control and welfare
- Trade development and regulations
- County planning and development
- Pre-primary education, village polytechnics, home craft centres and childcare facilities
- Implementation of specific national government policies on natural resources and environmental conservation
- County public works and services
- Fire station services and disaster management
- Control of drugs and pornography
- Ensuring and coordinating the participation of communities and locations in governance at the local level and assisting communities and locations to develop the administrative capacity for the effective exercise of the functions and powers and participation in governance at the local level
In Malaysia, each of four non-monarchical states (Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak) has a ceremonial Governor styled Yang di-Pertua Negeri, appointed to renewable four-year terms by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the federal King of Malaysia on the advice of the Prime Minister after consulting the state governments. These states each has a separate head of government called the Ketua Menteri or Chief Minister. The four Yang di-Pertua Negeri are members of the Conference of Rulers, however they cannot participate in the election of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, discussions related to the privileges of the Malay rulers and matters concerning the observance of Islam.
In Nigeria (once a colony governed by a single British Governor before independence), the leaders of the regions, which in 1967 were divided into states, have been known as governors since 1954. Following a military coup in November 1993, President Sani Abacha suspended all the governors, and appointed administrators. When democracy was restored in 1999, the office of governor was revived and new governors were elected. The president of Nigeria can suspend state governors in a state of emergency and replace them with administrators. They are elected by popular vote.
In Pakistan, each of the four provinces has a Governor who is appointed by the President.The governor is the representative of the president in their province and is the ceremonial head of the province whereas the chief minister is the head of the provincial government. The governor exercises powers similar to the president's, in their province respectively.
Papua New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea, the leaders of the provinces have been known as governors since August 1995. Previously they had been known as premiers.
The provincial councils of the 9 provinces of Sri Lanka are headed by a governor, as representatives of the President. Prior to 1948, when Ceylon as Sri Lanka was known back then, the Governor of Ceylon was head of the British Colony
Other colonial empires
European powers other than the UK with colonies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere gave their top representatives in their colonies the title of governor. Those representatives could be from chartered companies that ruled the colonies. In some of these colonies, there are still officials called governors.
- Danish colonial empire
- Dutch Empire
- Empire of Japan
- French colonial empire
- German colonial empire
- Italian empire
- Portuguese Empire
- Spanish Empire
- Swedish overseas colonies
Russia and former Soviet Union
In the Russian Empire, Governorate (Guberniya) and Governorate-General were the main units of territorial and administrative subdivision since the reforms of Peter the Great. These were governed by a Governor and Governor-General respectively.
A special case was the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone, which was governed as a concession granted by Imperial China to the Russian 'Chinese Eastern Railroad Society' (in Russian Obshchestvo Kitayskoy Vostochnoy Zheleznoy Dorogi; established in 17 December 1896 in St. Petersburg, later moved to Vladivostok), which built 1,481 km of tracks (Tarskaya – Hilar – Harbin – Nikolsk-Ussuriski; 3 November 1901 traffic opened) and established on 16 May 1898 the new capital city, Harbin; in August 1898, the defense for Chinese Eastern Railroad (CER) across Manchuria was assumed by Russia (first under Priamur governor).
On 1 July 1903, the Chinese Eastern Railroad was opened and given authority of its own CER Administration (Russian: Upravleniye KVZhD), vested in the Directors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, with the additional quality of Governors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone (in Harbin; as such being 12 August 1903 – 1 July 1905 subordinated to the imperial Viceroyalty of the Far East, see Lüshunkou). The post continued to function despite various political changes until after World War II.
Some of the administrative subdivisions of Russia are headed by governors, while others are headed by Presidents or heads of administration. From 1991 to 2005 they were elected by popular vote, in 2005–2012 they have been appointed by the federal president and confirmed by the province's legislature. After the debate, conducted by State Duma in April 2012, the direct elections of governors were expected to be restored.
Other European countries and empires
A Landeshauptmann (German for "state captain", literally 'country headman'; plural Landeshauptleute or Landeshauptmänner as in Styria till 1861; Landeshauptfrau is the female form) is an official title in German for certain political offices equivalent to a Governor. It has historical uses, both administrative and colonial, and is now used in federal Austria and in South Tyrol, a majority German-speaking province of Italy adjacent to Tyrol.
- In the Netherlands, the government-appointed heads of the provinces were known as Gouverneur from 1814 until 1850, when their title was changed to King's (or Queen's) Commissioner. In the southern province of Limburg, however, the commissioner is still informally called Governor.
- In the Dutch crown's Caribbean Overseas territories (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten), the style Governor is still used, alongside the political head of government.
- In Belgium, each of the ten provinces has a Governor, appointed by the regional government. He represents not only the regional but also the federal government in the province. He controls the local governments and is responsible for law and order, security and emergency action. The national capital of Brussels, which is not part of a province, also has a governor with nearly the same competences.
During the Ancien Régime in France, the representative of the king in his provinces and cities was the "gouverneur". Royal officers chosen from the highest nobility, provincial and city governors (oversight of provinces and cities was frequently combined) were predominantly military positions in charge of defense and policing. Provincial governors – also called "lieutenants généraux" – also had the ability of convoking provincial parlements, provincial estates and municipal bodies. The title "gouverneur" first appeared under Charles VI. The ordinance of Blois of 1579 reduced their number to 12, but an ordinance of 1779 increased their number to 39 (18 first-class governors, 21 second-class governors). Although in principle they were the king's representatives and their charges could be revoked at the king's will, some governors had installed themselves and their heirs as a provincial dynasty. The governors were at the height of their power from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century, but their role in provincial unrest during the civil wars led Cardinal Richelieu to create the more tractable positions of intendants of finance, policing and justice, and in the 18th century the role of provincial governors was greatly curtailed.
In today's German states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, and North Rhine-Westphalia there are – and earlier in more German states there were – sub-state administrative regions called in German: Regierungsbezirk, which is sometimes translated into English as governorate. Thus its respective head, in German: Regierungspräsident, is also translated as governor. Since in analogy to the US terminology the heads of the German states are – besides the translation of their German appellation as Minister-President (German: Ministerpräsident) – also translated as governors, using the term governor in both cases is ambiguous and somewhat confusing.
- The essentially maritime empire of the Venetian republic, comprising Terra Firma, other Adriatic (mainly Istria and Dalmatia) and further Mediterranean (mainly Greek) possessions, used different styles, such as (castelleno e) provveditore (generale) or baile.
- In today's Italy, the official name of a head of a Regione (the Italian subnational entity) is Presidente della Giunta regionale (President of the regional executive council), but since 2000, when a constitutional reform decided the direct election of the president by the people, it has been usual to call him/her governatore/governatrice (governor).
- In the various Italian provinces (former principalities and city-states) that became amalgamated as the Papal States, the Holy See exerted temporal power via its Legates and Delegates, including some Cardinals
- Also in Avignon and the surrounding southern French Comtat Venaissin, the home of the Popes during their 'Babylonian exile', and retained centuries after, but never incorporated into the Papal States, Legates and Vice-legates were appointed.
- The sovereign modern remnant of the formerly large Papal States, the tiny Vatican City State, is now a mere enclave in Rome, the capital of Italian Republic. As it is too small to have further administrative territorial divisions, it is the equivalent of a Prime Minister, Governor and Mayor all roled in to one post, styled the Governor of Vatican City.
Other modern Asian countries
In Indonesia, the title gubernur refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor and the Vice Governor are elected by a direct vote from the people as a couple, so the Governor is responsible to the provincial residents. The governor had a term of five years to work in office and can be re-elected for another single period. In case of death, disability, or resignation, a government official known as Vice Governor would stand in as Governor or acting Governor.
The elected Governor will be inaugurated by the President, or by the Indonesian minister of home affairs in the name of the President. In addition, the Governor is representative of central government in such province, so the Governor is responsible to the President. The Governor authority is regulated within Indonesian Act Number 32 Year 2004 and Governmental Ordinance Number 19 Year 2010.
Principally, the Governor has the tasks and the authorities to leads governmental services in the province based upon the policies that have been made together with the Provincial Parliament.
The Governor is not the superordinat of regents or mayors, but he/she is only to guide, to supervise, and to coordinate city/municipal and regencial governments. In other part, municipal and regencial governments have rights to manage each governance affairs based on autonomy principle and assistantship duties.
In Japan, the title "Governor" (知事 chiji?) refers to the highest ranking executive of a Prefectural Government. The Governor is elected by a direct vote from the people and had a fixed term of four years. He / she can be subjected to a recall referendum. In case of death, disability, or resignation, a government official known as Vice Governor would stand in as Governor or acting Governor.
See List of governors of Japan for a list of the current governors.
People's Republic of China
In the People's Republic of China, the title "Governor" (Chinese: 省长; pinyin: shěngzhǎng) refers to the highest ranking executive of a provincial government. The Governor is usually placed second in the provincial power hierarchy, below the Secretary of the provincial Communist Party of China (CPC) committee (省委书记), who serves as the highest ranking Party official in the province. Governors are elected by the provincial congresses and approved by the provincial party chief. All governors are not locals in the provinces which they govern.
The title can be also used when referring to a County Governor (县长).
In the Republic of the Philippines, the title "Governor" (Punong Lalawigan in Filipino), refers to the highest ranking executive of a Philippine province. The governor is elected by a direct vote from the people and has a fixed term of three years. A governor can only serve only up to three consecutive terms. He may however be suspended by either the Ombudsman or Philippine President, through the Secretary of Department of Interior and Local Government. He may be removed by the President if found guilty of an administrative case or a criminal act during his incumbency. He may be subjected to a recall vote, but unlike a referendum, the voters elect the governor of their choice. In case of death, disability, resignation, forced removal or suspension, vice governor, elected separately in the same election for governor, succeeds as governor, or acting governor, as the case may be.
In the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao, a Regional Governor and Regional Vice Governor are elected by a block vote similar to the United States President.
In Thailand, the title "Governor" (ผู้ว่าราชการ Phuwa Ratcha Gaan in Thai) refers to the administrator of each Thai province, who is appointed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The only exception is the specially governed district of Bangkok, whose governor is elected by its population.
Other modern countries in North America
In the United States, the title "Governor" refers to the chief executive of each state or insular territory. Governors retain sovereign police power, are not subordinate to the federal authorities except by laws provided by the enumerated powers section of the federal constitution, and serve as the political and ceremonial head of the state. Nearly three-fourths of the states (36) hold gubernatorial elections in the same years as midterm elections (2 years off set from presidential elections). Eleven states hold them in the same years as presidential elections (Vermont and New Hampshire hold elections every two years in every even numbered year), while the remaining five hold them in odd numbered years (two in the year after a presidential election, three in the year before).
In colonial North America, governors were chosen in a variety of ways, depending on how the colony was organized. In the crown colonies of Great Britain, France, and Spain, the governor was chosen by the ruling monarch of the colonizing power, or his designees; in British colonies, the Board of Trade was often the primary decision maker. Colonies based on a corporate charter, such as the Connecticut Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, elected their own governors based on rules spelled out in the charter or other colonial legislation. In proprietary colonies, such as the Province of Carolina before it became a crown colony (and was divided into North and South), governors were chosen by the Lords Proprietor who controlled the colony. In the early years of the American Revolutionary War, eleven of the Thirteen Colonies evicted (with varying levels of violence) royal and proprietary governors. The other two colonies (Connecticut and Rhode Island) had corporate charters; Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull was governor before and during the war period, while in Rhode Island, Governor Joseph Wanton was removed from office in 1775 for failing to support the rebel war effort.
Before achieving statehood, many of the fifty states were territories. Administered by the federal government, they had governors who were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate rather than elected by the resident population.
In the United Mexican States, governor refers to the elected chief and head of each of the nation's thirty one Free and Sovereign States, and their official title in Spanish is Gobernador. Mexican governors are directly elected by the citizens of each state for six-year terms and cannot be re-elected.
Other modern countries in South America
Until the 1930 Revolution, the heads of the Brazilian Provinces then States were styled Presidents (presidentes), later governors (governadores) and intervators (interventores, appointed by the federal government) and finally in 1945 only governors.
As a generic term, Governor is used for various 'equivalent' officers governing part of a state or empire, rendering other official titles such as:
- colonial High Commissioner (not the Ambassadors exchanged within the Commonwealth)
And this also applies to non-western and/or antique culture
Other meanings of the word
The word governor can also refer to an administrator and/or supervisor (individually or collectively, see Board of Governors); the Governor of a national bank often holds ministerial rank.
- Federal Reserve Board of Governors
- Governor of the Bank of Canada
- Governor of the National Bank of Romania
- List of governors of national banks of Serbia and Yugoslavia
- Governors of the Hudson's Bay Company
- The Mavens' Word of the Day
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