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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

President for Life is a title assumed by some dictators to remove their term limit, in the hope that their authority, legitimacy, and term will never be disputed.

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" (commonly mistranslated as 'Dictator-for-life') 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 his dictatorship that inspired the string of Roman emperors who ruled after his death. His actions would later be copied by the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who was appointed "First Consul for life" in 1802. 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, who were frequently thought of as examples of Presidents for Life, actually underwent periodic renewal of mandate but in most cases these are show elections. 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.

Others made unsuccessful attempts to have themselves named President for Life, such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in 1972.[1]

Notably, George Washington rejected all attempts to make him President for Life. That particular institution, as designed by its proponents, was, however, quite dissimilar from the modern usage, being an attempt to establish a limited constitutional elective monarchy.[citation needed] Washington retired after serving his second term, a practice followed by all Presidents afterwards except Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died 88 days into his fourth term. Such a tenure is no longer constitutionally possible, as the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution limits Presidents to two terms.

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.


  1. ^ Crawford Young and Thomas Turner, The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State, p. 211


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