President for Life

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President for Life is a title assumed by some dictator-presidents in republican systems to remove their term limit, in the hope that their authority, legitimacy, and term will never be disputed. 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, Philippines's Ferdinand Marcos, Indonesia's Suharto, Cuba's Fidel Castro 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, if the show elections were nominally direct, showed the president receiving implausibly high support (in some cases, unanimous support).

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.

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, such as José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Alexandre Pétion, Rafael Carrera, Yuan Shikai, François Duvalier, Josip Broz Tito and Saparmurat Niyazov have managed to rule until their (natural) deaths. Others made unsuccessful attempts to have themselves named President for Life, such as Mobutu Sese Seko in 1972.[1]

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.

North Korea[edit]

Further information: Kim dynasty (North Korea)

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 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. However, his 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).

List of leaders who became President for Life[edit]

Note: the first date listed in each entry is the date of proclamation of their 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 arrested and exiled to metropolitan France 1802, died 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.
Alexandre Pétion.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.
YuanShika Colour.jpg Yuan Shikai President for Life of China 1915 1916 became Emperor, rescinded throne, died in office as President 1916.
Presiden Sukarno.jpg Sukarno Supreme Commander, Great Leader of Revolution, Mandatory of the People's Consultative Assembly, and President for Life of Indonesia 1963 1966 appointed as President for Life according to the Ketetapan MPRS No. III/MPRS/1963,[2] stripped of title 1966, deposed 1967, died under house arrest 1970.
Kwame Nkrumah (JFKWHP-AR6409-A).jpg Kwame Nkrumah President for Life of Ghana 1964 1966 deposed 1966, died 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).
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 stripped of title after 1993 referendum, defeated in 1994 general election, 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.
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 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 of Uganda President for Life of Uganda 1976 1979 defeated in war 1979, died 2003.
Lennox Sebe President for Life of Ciskei 1983 1990 deposed 1990, died 1994.
Saparmurat Niyazov.jpg Saparmurat Niyazov President for Life of Turkmenistan 1999 2006 died in office 2006.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 211
  2. ^ "Ketetapan MPRS No. III/MPRS/1963". 

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]