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.

Julius Caesar

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

Caesar's 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 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 in 1972.[1]

Show elections

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, 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 showed the president receiving implausibly high support (in some cases, unanimous support).

North Korea

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. 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).

Similarity to a monarch

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.

Gallery of leaders who became President for Life


  1. Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 211
  2. "Ketetapan MPRS No. III/MPRS/1963".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

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

External Links