Follow TV Tropes


President for Life

Go To

This is when a dictator tries to make sure they are in power permanently by taking the title "President For Life", making them a de facto monarch who happens to have a republican title.

This does not include leaders who simply happened to expire before their predefined terms did. Nor does it include leaders who served multiple terms via show (or, in some cases, legitimate) elections where there was no other candidate. This is about doing away with elections or term limits altogether.

Definitely a sign of a People's Republic of Tyranny, and very often a President Evil. Whether they actually serve for the rest of their lives is quite another question — as is how long they live after attaining such a position.

This makes distinguishing between "republic" and "monarchy" (especially if the dictator is President For Life of a Hereditary Republic) a Royal Mess (e.g. Samoa's entry in the Real Life section), and there have been cases of a President For Life crossing that line and declaring himself King or Emperor, becoming a Monarch in name as well (Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic/Empire is the most recent example).

A subtrope of In It for Life. Compare: The Generalissimo and Just the First Citizen, with which there is often overlap (especially the former). Contrast Permanent Elected Official. A President for life should always remember that he or she Only Serves for Life. If a President for life remains as a ruler even after they died, it becomes The Necrocracy. If someone is effectively permanently in charge while ostensibly representing someone else, they may be a Regent for Life.


    open/close all folders 

  • Exiles: The Iron Man of one world Weapon X get sent to has become this, thanks to several decades of manipulation meaning everyone was grateful when Tony Stark humbly agreed to be president for life of what was left of America, after saving it from two wars and a virulent disease. Both of which he caused. Weapon X's job is setting in motion the events that lead to his death.
  • In Flashpoint (1999), JFK was elected to a third term and is still in power by the time of the story.
  • In the future of Marvel 1602, the US gets a President-for-Life as a Hero Killer dictator (strongly implied to be Zebediah Kilgrave, the Purple Man), prompting Captain America to travel back in time.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Victors Project: Much like his eventual successor, Coriolanus Snow, President Lucius rules for 3-5 decades without having to do something as trivial as run for reelection. Most if not all of the Presidents between Snow and Lucius are also this, albeit because their presidencies, and their lives, are pretty short-lived.
  • Coreline has a downplayed (and rare heroic, and even more rare having had the "for life" part elected by the public with full informed consent) example with the Governor-For-Life of Michigan: Optimus Prime.

  • In Licence to Kill, Big Bad Sanchez warns the president of the Banana Republic that he's "only President for life".
  • Escape from L.A. has a hyper-religious President of the US, who gets elected solely because one of his rants happens to come true quite by accident. Somehow, he gains enough support from the legislature and the people to amend the Constitution to get him declared this trope. He then proceeds to move the capital to his hometown, launch a network of Kill Sats, and make anything he doesn't like illegal (such as red meat, smoking, drinking, premarital sex, etc.). Anybody who doesn't agree gets deported to Los Angeles (which is separate from mainland US) or gets sent to the electric chair.
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, this is how Coin ultimately seeks to guarantee her power, making herself "interim" President, with a proper election being postponed indefinitely. When Katniss understands this, she makes sure it's a short term by killing her.

  • The Hunger Games:
    • There are no elections in Panem, so President Coriolanus Snow rules for life.
    • Same case with President Alma Coin in Mockingjay, who rules out elections by declaring herself "interim president." Katniss quickly figures out that she has no intention to cede power.
  • In Julian Comstock, term limits for the President have been abolished and most of the checks on his power such as the Supreme Court and House of Representatives have been dismantled. Technically every President is elected to every term, but the majority of the population doesn't get to cast their own ballot, with their feudal landlord voting on their behalf, and every President runs essentially unopposed. The post is also de facto hereditary, Julian himself becomes at least the third Comstock to serve as President by the end of the book.
  • In Twilight at the Well of Souls, Marquoz is re-made by the Well into a Hakazit, a species of large, powerful, reptilian warriors. The Hakazit have a truly unique form of government: The Supreme Lord is an absolute dictator who rules for as long as he lives - but the office is passed on only by Klingon Promotion, and every other Hakazit in the entire hex spends their spare time trying to find a way to assassinate him and become Supreme Lord in turn. The current Supreme Lord is fifty-seven years old and has held the position a little over three years. In his lifetime there have been sixty-six other Supreme Lords. The historical record for holding the position is nine years, three months, sixteen days, five hours, forty-one minutes.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin calls himself Supreme Dictator and President for Life of G.R.O.S.S.
    • Only until Hobbes declares himself King and Tyrant, at which point Calvin decides that's what he wants to be instead.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Ric Flair became President of WCW, and later declared himself President For Life.

    Sketch Comedy 
  • In his "African President" sketch from his 2009 show J'ai fait l'con, French-Cameroonian comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala spoofed the Françafrique system by playing a fictional president for life of Cameroon who gave suitcases of cash to French political parties and presidents such as Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand...

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dark Sun, Balic is a republic, but the office of dictator is for life. And Dictator Andropinis is an immortal Sorcerous Overlord, so he won't be leaving office any time soon.
  • GURPS Cyberworld: The US presidency has become one of these after the then-incumbent is "forced" to suspend the Constitution and declare a state of emergency. Officially the title is "Provisional President", and free elections will be held as soon as the Provisional Government gets everything stabilized, but every four years the Provisional Congress automatically announces that elections will not be held. The current Provisional President referred to the situation as the "Permanent Emergency" when he took power, so do the math.

    Video Games 
  • Possible in the Tropico series, but the risk is civil unrest once the people decide that they really want free elections again. That said, El Presidente can still easily stuff the ballot box, so long as doing so doesn't verge into a Revealing Cover-Up.
  • In Stellaris after "government forms" were introduced, the Dictatorial government form is this: A ruler chosen by "oligarchic election" whenever the previous ruler dies.
  • Subverted in Fallout: Aradesh was the leader of Shady Sands, and, after its founding, the New California Republic, until his death, and was succeeded by his daughter Tandi, who stayed in office for 52 years before dying in office at age 103. However, there were no overt military or legal shenanigans behind this; the NCR never got around to instituting a term limit, but regular and reasonably fair elections were held, and Aradesh and Tandi were both competent and popular enough to consistently win.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Quite popular amongst real-life dictators and even some legally elected presidents, and has its own article at That Other Wiki. Some even lived up to the term. Africa and Latin America harbor plenty of notorious examples.
    • Famously, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin proclaimed himself this in many of his Narmtastic rants.
    • François "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti. Died in office.
    • Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan. Died in office.
    • Hastings Banda of Malawi. Stripped of title in 1993, defeated in an election in 1994.
    • Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Deposed while away from office in 1966.
    • Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia. Died in office in 1980.
    • José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia of Paraguay. Died in office in 1840.
    • Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia. Deposed in 1987, died under house arrest in 2000.
    • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh. Assassinated in 1975, after only seven months in power, along with most of his family.
    • Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic. Declared President for Life in 1972, then went all the way and was crowned Emperor of the Central African Empire in 1976. Deposed in 1979.
    • Porfirio Díaz of Mexico. Deposed in 1911 during the Revolution.
    • Subverted by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who, when pressed to accept the title by his sycophants, turned it down (even though he was genuinely popular), remarking that there was only one way of getting rid of a President for Life.
    • Samoa, a honest-to-god democracy, had not one but two (Ceremonial) Presidents for life serving simultaneously: Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole (who died in 1963, one year into his term) and Malietoa Tanumafili II (who held office from 1962 to 2007). Their case was a special exception for the usual rule of Parliament electing one single President for a five-year term, which makes the country unambiguously a republic. However, Tanumafili II's long term, combined with the fact that only Chiefs can hold elected office in Samoa and the President being called an O le Ao o le Malo (that's Samoan for Chief of the Government), led to Samoa being frequently referred to as a Constitutional Monarchy instead of the Parliamentary Republic it actually is.
    • Averted with Kim Il-sung of North Korea, who was declared Eternal President of the Republic after he'd died. However, he was NOT President For Life while he was alive; his term was regularly renewed via show elections. Christopher Hitchens commented that this made North Korea the world's only necrocracy.
    • Downplayed by Vladimir Putin. While there are actual elections in Russia and not mere rubber stamp shows like those organized by the Kims or Saddam Hussein, they are still subject to considerable election interference from the Kremlin. The constitution of the Russian Federation originally specified that a person could only serve two consecutive 4-year terms as President, so they had to do a switcheroo with Dimitry Medvedev as a Puppet King from 2008-2012. Afterwards, the constitution was amended to remove the term limits and increase the President's term to 6 years instead of 4. In 2000, he barely skated through with 53% of the votes. By 2018, it had risen to 77%.
    • Napoléon Bonaparte made himself First Consul for life on the way to becoming The Emperor.
    • The Ur-Example is probably that of Julius Caesar in Ancient Rome, granted the title of dictator perpetuo or dictator in perpetuity, abandoning the usual time restrictions on Roman dictatorships historically observed. This of course being shortly before his infamous assassination, and possibly being subverted by the lack of implication Caesar would never resign the post. Whether Caesar actually had any intention of ever stepping down is uncertain, but in theory "dictator in perpetuity" only meant he wasn't required to step down after a specified term (traditionally the Roman dictatorship was limited to 6 months, and dictators often did voluntarily step down early if it took less than 6 months to solve whichever emergency led to their appointment). The only previous dictator to not be time-limited was Sulla, who did indeed abuse his power to rule as a tyrant but also peacefully stepped down after less than 2 years.
      • His great-nephew and heir Augustus was offered this title but refused it, knowing how dangerous this was. He preferred the titles imperator, originally a military honorific roughly meaning "commander" but which evolved into a royal title (translating, of course, to "emperor") over time, and princeps (first citizen), which likewise evolved centuries later into the royal title "prince". For the first 311 years of The Roman Empire, the emperors followed Augustus' example by insisting that they were neither royal nor dictators and that Rome was still a republic in which power ultimately flowed from the citizens and the Senate. Not until Diocletian in 284 AD was the pretense discarded.