President for Life
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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. His actions would later be copied by the French leader 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.
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. However, some, such as Rafael Carrera, François Duvalier, Saparmurat Niyazov, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia and Josip Broz Tito have managed to rule until their (natural) deaths.
Some very long-serving authoritarian presidents, such as North Korea's Kim Il-sung, Romania's Nicolae Ceaușescu, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, 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 actually underwent periodic renewals of mandate that were usually show elections. Official results showed the president receiving implausibly high support (in some cases, unanimous support).
After Kim Il-sung's death, the North Korean government wrote the presidential office out of the constitution, declaring him "Eternal President" 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 and effectively split between the chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, the prime minister, the president, and the chairman of the National Defence Commission.
Others made unsuccessful attempts to have themselves named President for Life, such as Mobutu in 1972.
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.
List of leaders who became President for Life
Note: the first date listed in each entry is the date of proclamation of their status as President for Life.
- Toussaint Louverture of Saint-Domingue was proclaimed Governor for Life by the 1801 Constitution – arrested and exiled to metropolitan France 1802, died 1803.
- Henri Christophe of northern Haiti (1807) – became King 1811, committed suicide in office 1820.
- Alexandre Pétion of southern Haiti (1816) – died in office 1818.
- José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia of Paraguay (1816) – died in office 1840.
- Jean-Pierre Boyer of Haiti (1818) - became President for Life immediately upon assuming the office because Alexandre Pétion's constitution provided for a life presidency for all his successors. Boyer was overthrown in a revolution in 1843 and died in 1850.
- Rafael Carrera of Guatemala (1854) – died in office 1865.
- Yuan Shikai of China (1915) – became Emperor, rescinded throne, died in office 1916.
- Sukarno of Indonesia (1963) – deposed stripped of all honours and power 1967, died under house arrest in 1970.
- Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (1964) – deposed 1966, died 1972.
- François "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti (1964) – died in office 1971, named his son as his successor (see below).
- Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier of Haiti (1971) – named by his father as successor (see above), deposed 1986, alive.
- Hastings Banda of Malawi (1971) – stripped of title 1993, defeated in 1994 general election, died 1997.
- Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic (1972) – became Emperor 1976, deposed 1979, died 1996.
- Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (1972) – deposed and executed 1979.
- Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia (1974) – died in office 1980.
- Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia (1975) – deposed 1987, died 2000.
- Idi Amin of Uganda (1976) – defeated in war 1979, died 2003.
- Lennox Sebe of Ciskei (1983) – deposed 1990, died 1994.
- Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan (1999) – died in office 2006.
Gallery of leaders who became President for Life
François Duvalier, President for Life of Haiti (1964–1971)
Jean-Claude Duvalier, President for Life of Haiti (1971–1986)
- Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 211