President for life
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President for life is a title assumed by or granted to some presidents to extend their tenure up until their death. 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
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 – indeed, Samoa's long-serving President for life, Malietoa Tanumafili II, was frequently and mistakenly referred to as King. 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. A notable difference between a monarch and a president-for-life, is based on the fact that the successor of the president do not necessarily possess a for-life term, like in Turkmenistan and Samoa.
Most leaders who have proclaimed themselves president for life have not in fact successfully gone on to serve a life term. Most have been deposed long before their death while others have been 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 Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in 1972.
People frequently cited as being examples of Presidents for Life include very long-serving authoritarian or totalitarian 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, Nationalist China's Chiang Kai-shek, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko and Vietnam's Hồ Chí Minh. However, they were never officially granted life terms and, in fact, underwent periodic renewals of mandate that were in some cases sham elections. According to reports from US-funded Freedom House, official election results in Belarus and Russia show implausibly high levels of support (in some cases, unanimous support).
In popular culture
In the film Escape from LA, the President played by Cliff Robertson is given a life term by a constitutional amendment after an earthquake ravages Los Angeles and leads to the President's shocking electoral victory. At the end of the film, Snake played by Kurt Russell puts an end to his regime when he uses an EMP aiming device remote ending all governments including that of his dictatorship.
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.
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 was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg in January 1933. On Hindenburg's death in August 1934, 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.
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 Chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, the premier, and the chairman of the National Defence Commission (as State Affairs Commission since 2016). 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 ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
List of leaders who became president for life
Note: The first date listed in each entry is the date of proclamation of the status as President for Life.
|Country||Title||Took office||Left office||Notes|
|French Saint-Domingue||Governor for Life of Saint-Domingue||1801||1802||Deposed 1802, died in exile in France 1803.|
|Haiti||President for Life of Haiti (Northern)||1807||1811||Became King 1811, committed suicide while reigning 1820.|
|José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
|Paraguay||Perpetual Supreme Dictator of Paraguay||1816||1840||Died in office 1840.|
|Haiti||President for Life of Haiti (Southern)||1816||1818||Died in office 1818.|
|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 López de Santa Anna
|Mexico||President for Life of Mexico||1853||1855||Resigned 1855, died 1876.|
|Guatemala||President for Life of Guatemala||1854||1865||Died in office 1865.|
|Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole
|Samoa||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.|
|Malietoa Tanumafili II
|2007||Died in office 2007, elected to serve alongside Meaʻole (see above).|
|Indonesia||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, life term removed 1966, deposed 1967, died under house arrest 1970.|
|Ghana||President for Life of Ghana||1964||1966||Deposed 1966, died in exile in Romania 1972.|
|François "Papa Doc" Duvalier
|Haiti||President for Life of Haiti||1964||1971||Died in office 1971, named his son as his successor (see below).|
|Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier
|1971||1986||Named by his father as successor (see above), deposed 1986, died 2014.|
|Malawi||President for Life of Malawi||1971||1993||Life term removed 1993, voted out of office 1994, died 1997.|
|Central African Republic||President for Life of the Central African Republic||1972||1976||Became Emperor 1976 (crowned 1977), deposed 1979, died 1996.|
|Francisco Macías Nguema
|Equatorial Guinea||President for Life of Equatorial Guinea||1972||1979||Deposed and executed 1979.|
|Josip Broz Tito
|Yugoslavia||President for Life of Yugoslavia||1974||1980||Appointed as President for Life according to the 1974 Constitution, died in office 1980.|
|Tunisia||President for Life of Tunisia||1975||1987||Deposed 1987, died under house arrest 2000.|
|Uganda (Second Republic)||President for Life of Uganda||1976||1979||Deposed 1979, died in exile in Saudi Arabia 2003.|
|Ciskei||President for Life of Ciskei||1983||1990||Deposed 1990, died 1994.|
|Turkmenistan||President for Life of Turkmenistan||1999||2006||Died in office 2006.|
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Kremlin is able to manipulate elections and suppress genuine dissent.
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Belarus is an authoritarian police state in which elections are openly rigged and civil liberties are curtailed. [...] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors noted that longstanding deficiencies in Belarusian elections were unaddressed, including a restrictive legal framework, media coverage that fails to help voters make informed choices, irregularities in vote counting, and restrictions on free expression and assembly during the campaign period. The group concluded that the elections fell considerably short of democratic standards.
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- Mngomezulu, Bhekithemba Richard (2013). The President for Life Pandemic: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Malawi. Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd. ISBN 9781909112315.
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