President for life

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President for life is a title assumed by or granted to some leaders to remove their term limit irrevocably as a way of removing future challenges to their authority and legitimacy. The title sometimes confers on the holder the right to nominate or appoint a successor. The usage of the title of "president for life" rather than a traditionally autocratic title, such as that of a monarch, implies the subversion of liberal democracy by the titleholder (although republics need not be democratic per se). Indeed, sometimes a president for life can proceed to establish a self-proclaimed monarchy, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe in Haiti.

Similarity to a monarch[edit]

A president for life may be regarded as a de facto monarch. In fact, other than the title, political scientists often face difficulties in differentiating a state ruled by a president for life (especially one who inherits the job from a family dictatorship) and a monarchy. In his proposed plan for government at the United States Constitutional Convention Alexander Hamilton proposed that the chief executive be a governor elected to serve for good behavior, acknowledging that such an arrangement might be seen as an elective monarchy. It was for that very reason that the proposal was rejected.

Most leaders who have proclaimed themselves president for life have not in fact gone on to successfully serve a life term. Most have been deposed long before their death while others truly fulfill their title by being assassinated while in office. However, some have managed to rule until their (natural) deaths, including José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia of Paraguay, Alexandre Pétion of Haiti, Rafael Carrera of Guatemala, François Duvalier of Haiti, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan. Others made unsuccessful attempts to have themselves named president for life, such as Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko in 1972.[1]

Some very long-serving authoritarian presidents, such as Zaire's Mobutu, North Korea's Kim Il-sung, Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov, Romania's Nicolae Ceaușescu, Syria's Hafez al-Assad, Indonesia's Suharto, the Republic of China's Chiang Kai-shek and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, are frequently thought of as examples of Presidents for Life. However, they were never officially granted life terms and, in fact, underwent periodic renewals of mandate that were usually show elections. Official results showed these presidents receiving implausibly high support (in some cases, unanimous support).

Most notable[edit]

Julius Caesar[edit]

One of the most well-known incidents of a republican leader extending his term indefinitely was Roman dictator Julius Caesar, who made himself "Perpetual Dictator" in 45 BC. Traditionally, the office of dictator could only be held for six months, and although he was not the first Roman dictator to be given the office with no term limit, it was Caesar's dictatorship that inspired the string of Roman emperors who ruled after his assassination.

Napoleon Bonaparte[edit]

Caesar's actions would later be copied by the French Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, who was appointed "First Consul for life" in 1802 before elevating himself to the rank of Emperor two years later. Since then, many dictators have adopted similar titles, either on their own authority or having it granted to them by rubber stamp legislatures.

Adolf Hitler[edit]

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg in January. On Hindenburg's death the German Reichstag voted to (unconstitutionally) merge the offices of President and Chancellor, giving Hitler the title of Führer. Later the Reichstag voted to allow Hitler to hold the positions of Chancellor and Führer for life.

North Korea[edit]

After Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, the North Korean government wrote the presidential office out of the constitution, declaring him "Eternal President" in 1998 in order to honor his memory forever. Since there can be no succession in a system where the President reigns over a nation beyond death, the powers of the president are nominally split between the president of the Supreme People's Assembly, the prime minister, and the chairman of the State Affairs Commission. However, Kim Il-sung's son and grandson have been in control of the country since his death (Kim Jong-il from 1994 until his death in 2011, and Kim Jong-un since 2011) as the leaders of the Workers' Party of Korea.

List of leaders who became president for life[edit]

Note: the first date listed in each entry is the date of proclamation of his status as President for Life.

Portrait Name Title Took office Left office Notes
Général Toussaint Louverture.jpg Toussaint Louverture Governor for Life of Saint-Domingue 1801 1802 deposed 1802, died in exile in France 1803.
Henri Christophe.jpg Henri Christophe President for Life of the State of Haiti (Northern) 1807 1811 became King 1811, committed suicide in office 1820.
Portrait du président Alexandre Pétion (cropped).jpg Alexandre Pétion President for Life of Haiti (Southern) 1816 1818 died in office 1818.
Dr francia.JPG José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia Perpetual Supreme Dictator of Paraguay 1816 1840 died in office 1840.
Président Jean-Pierre Boyer.jpg Jean-Pierre Boyer President for Life of Haiti 1818 1843 became President for Life immediately upon assuming the office because Alexandre Pétion's constitution provided for a life presidency for all his successors, deposed 1843, died 1850.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.jpg Antonio López de Santa Anna President for Life of Mexico 1853 1855 resigned 1855, died 1876.
Carrerap02.jpg Rafael Carrera President for Life of Guatemala 1854 1865 died in office 1865.
Presiden Sukarno.jpg Sukarno Supreme Commander, Great Leader of Revolution, Mandate Holder of the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly, and President for Life of Indonesia 1963 1966 Designated as President for Life according to the Ketetapan MPRS No. III/MPRS/1963,[2] life term removed 1966, deposed 1967, died under house arrest 1970.
Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole.jpg Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole O le Ao o le Malo for Life of Samoa 1962 1963 Died in office 1963, elected to serve alongside Tanumafili II (see below). The position of O le Ao o le Malo (head of state) is ceremonial; executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister, and Samoa is a parliamentary democracy.[3]
Malietoa Tanumafili II O le Ao o le Malo for Life of Samoa 1962 2007 Died in office 2007, elected to serve alongside Meaʻole (see above).[3]
Kwame Nkrumah (JFKWHP-AR6409-A).jpg Kwame Nkrumah President for Life of Ghana 1964 1966 deposed 1966, died in exile in Romania 1972.
Duvalier (cropped).jpg François "Papa Doc" Duvalier President for Life of Haiti 1964 1971 died in office 1971, named his son as his successor (see below).[4]
Baby Doc (centrée).jpg Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier President for Life of Haiti 1971 1986 named by his father as successor (see above), deposed 1986, died 2014.
Dr HK Banda, first president of Malawi.jpg Hastings Banda President for Life of Malawi 1971 1993 life term removed 1993, voted out of office 1994, died 1997.
Bokassa colored.png Jean-Bédel Bokassa President for Life of the Central African Republic 1972 1976 became Emperor 1976, deposed 1979, died 1996.
Don Francisco Macias.jpg Francisco Macías Nguema President for Life of Equatorial Guinea 1972 1979 deposed and executed 1979.
Josip Broz Tito uniform portrait.jpg Josip Broz Tito President for Life of Yugoslavia 1974 1980 appointed as President for Life according to the 1974 Constitution, died in office 1980.
Portrait officiel de Habib Bourguiba.png Habib Bourguiba President for Life of Tunisia 1975 1987 deposed 1987, died under house arrest 2000.
Idi Amin -Archives New Zealand AAWV 23583, KIRK1, 5(B), R23930288.jpg Idi Amin President for Life of Uganda 1976 1979 deposed 1979, died in exile in Saudi Arabia 2003.
Lennox Sebe President for Life of Ciskei 1983 1990 deposed 1990, died 1994.
Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002.jpg Saparmurat Niyazov President for Life of Turkmenistan 1999 2006 died in office 2006.


  1. ^ Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 211
  2. ^ "Ketetapan MPRS No. III/MPRS/1963".
  3. ^ a b "Constitution of the Independent State of Western Samoa 1960". University of the South Pacific. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  4. ^ The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought: Abol-impe. Oxford University Press. 2010-01-01. p. 328. ISBN 9780195334739.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mngomezulu, Bhekithemba Richard (2013). The President for Life Pandemic: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Malawi. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. ISBN 9781909112315.

External links[edit]