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Only Serves for Life

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"For life, possibly, but apparently not for long."
Vetinari on Moist von Lipwig's appointment as Master of the Mint in Making Money

A President for Life expects to hold office for quite a while. This isn't necessarily the case: although the post cannot technically be vacated with the office holder's deposition, it can quite easily be vacated at any time via his death. This is often mentioned in the context of a threat.


If a President for Life manages to remain as a ruler even after they died, it becomes The Necrocracy.

See also Klingon Promotion, In It for Life. Has nothing to do with serving a life sentence.


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     Comic Books  

  • In the X-Wing Rogue Squadron story arc "Mandatory Retirement", Ysanne Isard as part of her attempt to consolidate her control over what remains of the Galactic Empire, tries to recruit Admiral Krennel to her side. Krennel declines, saying he's pledged his loyalty to General Carvin (the official leader at the time) and that such allegiance is for life. Isard reminds Krennel that "life" is not synonymous with "long", and shortly afterward has Carvin assassinated.




  • In The Tamuli, Sephrenia is dealing with another Styric, who uses the excuse that he holds his position for life. Sephrenia responds, "Precisely my point", and proceeds to cast a death spell.
    • Note that she does not actually kill him, she just threatens to (she indicates to him that she just holds off from finishing the spell and so metaphorically holds his heart in her hands). This also makes the point that out of over a thousand people present with the awareness and ability to easily stop her (not counting that the man is the high priest of a deity able to intervene), some of whom were her political enemies, nobody was doing a thing.
  • Discworld examples:
    • The Patrician of Anhk-Morpork serves for life as a dictator, but always with the understanding that if too many of the rich and important people decide he needs to go he'll be assassinated. The incumbent throughout the series (except for most of Night Watch, in which we get to see a previous Patrician play it very straight indeed) is Havelock Vetinari, who is so good at having that not happen to him that he has a trope about it named after him.
    • The jobs Vetinari gives Moist von Lipwig. In Going Postal he reflects "Postmaster General was a job for life - one way or the other. That was why Vetinari had put him here". And in Making Money, Vetinari calls Moist's appointment as Master of the Mint "For life, possibly, but apparently not for long."
  • Tribesmen of Gor: the way to become the head of Klima, a Penal Colony/salt mine surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert, is to kill the current head. This also applies to lower ranking leaders. But bear in mind before you try to kill him - he successfully killed his predecessor. And so on.
  • In Warrior Cats, Clan Leaders serve until their death, which can take a while since they're granted nine lives upon becoming leader, so they must die nine times before they'll stay dead. The Clan deputy automatically becomes leader when the leader dies, so this has led to a couple times when a Leader Wannabe deputy decides that his leader's taking too long to die and tries to secretly kill the leader himself.
  • When Oberyn Martell of A Song of Ice and Fire makes a statement that might be construed as a threat against Hand of the King Tywin Lannister and is warned that eavesdroppers may be listening, he says, "Let them. Is it treason to say a man is mortal?"
  • In the Romulan state as depicted in the Rihannsu series, Senators are not democratically elected and serve for life. As Gurrhim tr'Siedhri puts it in Honor Blade, "Once a senator in ch'Rihan, always one - while you breathe, anyway." By tradition, constituents display their displeasure by mailing swords to encourage suicide. Very few Senators fail to take the hint, probably because those who do get removed more directly.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Invoked in the Shadowrun sourcebook Cyberpirates. While talking about the situation in Haiti, Shadowland poster The Gingerbread Man (a Pirate) states that the president of Haiti serves for life - and then notes that that term, in Haiti, averages out to about ten years, and that every outgoing president gets voted out "the old fashioned way - with an HK227 (a model of submachine gun) to the back of the head."

     Western Animation  

  • Discussed in the Stonecutters episode of The Simpsons. Homer has been named the leader of the Stonecutters lodge because of a birthmark. He can't be voted out of office or anything but the rest of them don't like his leadership. They discuss killing him, but they end up just all quitting the lodge.

     Real Life  

  • On June 7th, 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared himself President for Life of Bangladesh, establishing a "unity government" that banned all political parties and independent press. He was assassinated later that year on August 15th.
  • Invoked a few times by The Vatican, who elected an old or sick man as The Pope, hoping for a short and/or uneventful reign. It's been known to backfire when The Pope lived longer or was more active than expected.
    • Defied (or perhaps Invoked in Inversion) when the Vatican, meeting for the second time in as many months, elected a 50-something cardinal to the Papacy in hopes they wouldn't have to have a conclave for at least a decade. It worked: John Paul II had the second-longest papacy in history (26 years) and none of the cardinals that voted then were eligible to vote for his successor.note 
  • Possible Ur-Example: The Rex Nemorensis, or "King of Nemi," was the priest of Diana at a particular grove on the shores of Lake Nemi. By tradition, he must be a fugitive slave who found a golden bough in the grove and then slew his predecessor. He serves until the same thing happens to him.
  • Subverted by the North Korean government. Despite Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, he retains the title of "Eternal President", thus making him the country's de jure head of state.
  • Less than ten popes have ever (voluntarily) resigned.
  • Julius Caesar was named dictator for life in February of 44 BC. He was assassinated only a month later, in March of the same year. Whether he actually intended to remain dictator for the rest of his life is impossible to determine. While the title dictator perpetuo ("dictator in perpetuity") gave him the option of remaining in office for life, it's entirely possible that he intended to step down eventually but wanted to hold power for longer than the normal 6 month limit for a Roman dictator. But a group of Senators weren't willing to wait and find out, some because they feared he did plan to rule for life and others because they were simply his political foes.