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In The Hunger Games, why is President Snow the 'President'?

It is to my understanding that there are only twelve districts, there is no outside world and clearly Snow will not step down anytime soon.

Unless... you know... Katniss shoots him... which might happen...

The districts are not a democracy so there might never be any elections. So why is Snow the President and not the King, Dictator, Emperor etc.?

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Even in the real world, totalitarian regimes sometimes like to borrow names and titles from democratic republics. I've always just assumed the reason for this is to avoid calling too much attention to the fact that they aren't democratic. – Theodoros Chatzigiannakis Feb 13 at 16:20
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He swapped titles with Queen Amidala. – Micah Feb 13 at 17:13
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I don't think there's anything necessarily democratic about the title "president". I think it more describes the duties of the office (presiding) than the method of selection. Consider that the presidents of most companies are appointed, not elected. – Paul Feb 13 at 18:16
up vote 13 down vote accepted

We know very little of the political system of Panem, as the Capitol tends to keep its citizens and the districts ignorant. And since everything is told in Katniss point of view, that means we learn very little.

We do know that Panem is set in a post apocalyptic North America, and can simply conclude that certain terms were kept. They all speak English with peppering of Latin names and terms. Panem grew out of a war and environmentally ravaged United States. It would be a slow transition of terms, so President would likely stick.

It is possible that Snow was elected, based on the secrets Finnick learned when Snow was pimping him out. From Mockingjay chapter 12, very close to what is shown in Mockingjay Part 1:

"And now, on to our good President Coriolanus Snow,” says Finnick. “Such a young man when he rose to power. Such a clever one to keep it. How, you must ask yourself, did he do it? One word. That‘s all you really need to know. Poison.” Finnick goes back to Snow‘s political ascension, which I know nothing of, and works his way up to the present, pointing out case after case of the mysterious deaths of Snow‘s adversaries or, even worse, his allies who had the potential to become threats.

As he says, Snow rose to power through political alliances and murdering his opposition. The position of President could be a life Appointment since Before the Dark Days i.e. the first rebellion, or Snow convinced them to give him that power ala Star Wars Emperor Palpatine in Clone Wars.

As for the voting, obviously the Districts, which after the Dark Days are no longer given various freedoms, that leaves Capitol Citizens as the only Voters. We don't know if District citizens/residents could vote Before the Dark Days. The oldest characters we see are Mags, born 5 years before the Treaty of Treason, and Snow, born that year, 75 years before current. So any first hand account is hard to find. In comparison, modern day United States does not allow citizens living in its Territories to vote for President or Congress. Puerto Rico is an example of that. District of Columbia citizens can vote for president but not for Congress. So there is precedence for how the Capitol treats the 12 Districts. From the first book:

[The Mayor] tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. the result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gaves us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.

In Contrast, we also don't know much about District 13's President Coin, if she was democratically elected or not. We do know that after her and Snow's deaths, Commander Paylor was elected as the new President of Panem in an emergency election, so Panem/District citizens clearly understand the concept of a republic.

Tonight, the 12 district leaders will call for a free election. There's no doubt that Paylor will carry, she's become the voice of reason.
-[Haymitch reading Plutarch's letter, due to Hoffman's passing]

Of course, Plutarch is the source of this concept. From the book Mockingjay:

If we win, who would be in charge of the government?” Gale asks.

“Everyone,” Plutarch tells him. “We‘re going to form a republic where the people of each district and the Capitol can elect their own representatives to be their voice in a centralized government. Don‘t look so suspicious; it‘s worked before.”

“In books,” Haymitch mutters.

“In history books,” says Plutarch. “And if our ancestors could do it, then we can, too.”

[Katniss, Internal] Frankly, our ancestors don‘t seem much to brag about. I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn‘t care about what would happen to the people who came after them. But this republic idea sounds like an improvement over our current government.

In Mockingjay Part 2, Coin "promises" a free election, when when the time is right. Which we and Katniss know is B.S., leading to Katniss' actions at Snow's execution ceremony.

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Can't up-vote but thanks for the answer, I appreciate it. – Mango Feb 13 at 12:26
    
Just saw your edit and DAMN thats a big answer. – Mango Feb 13 at 13:10
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@Mango the books paint a very detailed universe, despite the lack of details :) – cde Feb 13 at 13:19
    
allot of details without details... what a great book. ;) – Mango Feb 13 at 15:06
    
@Mango All these questions lately, I think I need to sit down and actually read them one of these days XD – cde Feb 13 at 15:08

Out-of-universe answer:

"Dictator" isn't really an office you can hold (not since ancient Rome anyway). It's typically a label someone else gives you, because you're behaving like one.

And "king" or "emperor" implies a monarchy/dynasty and lineage, so few people care to name themselves that. Easier to modify the existing power structure and just put yourself on top (unless the existing structure is dynastic, in which case you can't really name yourself "heir" if you're not related, so it's easier to just do away with it).

If you are a de facto king/emperor/dictator, you can call yourself whatever you want. So you go for whatever sounds best. Kim Jong-un has tons of titles - none of them "dictator".

Mobuto held the title "president"; same for Idi Amin. Or Saddam Hussein, for that matter. In Chile, you had Pinochet, also nominally president. Pol Pot was prime minister of Cambodia. Even Hitler nominally held the title "chancellor". And so on and so forth.

As cde said, if a democratic government turns to dictatorship, it keeps the titles (and invents some new ones as a bonus).

In the end, titles are fluid. You can name yourself "grand poobah" or "janitor", and if you happen to be the supreme ruler, then that's what that title means in you regime. So in-universe, "president" doesn't have to mean "democratically elected"; it just means "whatever Snow is".

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Iraq had a presidential republic before Hussein. As did Uruguay and the Congo. President is the official title. – cde Feb 13 at 20:40
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@cde yes, precisely. As you said, the title sticks around. I'm in no way arguing otherwise, just giving real-world examples of it – Flambino Feb 13 at 20:45

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