1 a person used as a cover for some questionable activity [syn: front man, front, nominal head, straw man, strawman]
2 figure on the bow of some sailing vessels
carved figure on the prow of a sailing ship
- German: Galionsfigur
someone in a nominal position of leadership
- German: Galionsfigur
- Finnish: keulakuva
In politics, a figurehead, by metaphor with the carved figurehead at the prow of a sailing ship, is a person who holds an important title or office yet executes little actual power. Common figureheads include constitutional monarchs, such as the Emperor of Japan, or presidents in parliamentary democracies, such as the President of Israel.
While the authority of a figurehead is generally symbolic, respect and access to high levels of government can give them significant influence on some events. An example would be Emperor Hirohito's involvement in World War II. In parliamentary systems, presidents are figureheads at times of peace (delegated such powers as convening or dismissing the national legislature), but at wartime they are often commanders in chief.
Sometimes a figurehead can be exploited in times of emergency. For example, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used the figurehead President of India to issue unilateral decrees that allowed her to bypass parliament when it no longer supported her.
The word can also have more sinister overtones, and refer to a powerless leader who should be exercising full authority, yet is actually being controlled by a more powerful figure behind the throne.
The tendency of this word to drift, like many words that are in a strong process of changed meanings, into the pejorative is beginning to make it unsuitable to apply to a head of state with limited constitutional authority, such that its use may become increasingly inappropriate in referring to monarchs and presidents in parliamentary systems.
figurehead in Finnish: Keulahahmo
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