Longest Serving Leaders of All Time

An art piece depicting Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba.
An art piece depicting Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba.

Most governments across the world are led by democratically-elected leaders who in most cases have limits on the number of terms they can serve. However, there are several leaders who had extremely long tenures in leadership with eight people being in leadership for more than 40 years.

Leaders Who Have Served the Longest Terms

Fidel Castro (Cuba)

Fidel Castro was a Cuban leader, and he held several leadership positions including the President of Cuba, The Prime Minister, and The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. Fidel Castro was the longest non-royal serving head of state being in office as President of Cuba for more than 50 years. Fidel Castro assumed the leadership in Cuba in 1959 after leading a successful guerrilla war against government forces led by the then-President Fulgencio Batista and became the country’s Prime Minister. Castro later became Cuba’s President on December 2nd, 1976 and served as head of state until April 19th, 2011 and was succeeded by his brother Raul Castro. Fidel Castro died on November 25th, 2016 at the age of 90.

Chiang Kai-shek (China)

Chiang Kai-shek was a prominent military and political leader in China who served as the head of the Republic of China. Also known as Jiang Zhongzheng, Chiang Kai-shek was the longest-serving head of state in China ruling the country for an unprecedented 47 years where he spent 22 years at the helm of Mainland China’s leadership and 25 years as the ruler of Taiwan. Chiang served as chairman of the National Military Council from 1928 until 1948 when forces loyal to the Chinese Communist Party deposed him during the Chinese Civil War leading to Chiang fleeing to exile in Taiwan where he ruled as the President of Taiwan until his death on April 5th, 1975 in Taipei.

Kim II-sung (North Korea)

Kim II-sung was the founding leader of North Korea and was the longest-serving head of state in the country’s history serving as the country’s supreme leader for over 45 years and was among the longest-serving non-royal heads of state of the 20th century. Kim held several leadership roles including North Korea’s Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and The President of North Korea from 1972 until his death in 1994.

Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal (Mongolia)

Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal was the leader of Mongolia who served as the country’s prime minister as well as the general secretary of the Mongolian People’s Party. Yumjaagiin was Mongolia’s longest serving leader assuming leadership on April 8th, 1940. He served for 44 years until August 23rd, 1984 when he retired. Yumjaagiin was also the youngest individual to become the General Secretary of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, at the age of 23. Yumjaagiin ascended to the premiership of Mongolia in 1952 following the death of his predecessor, Marshal Khorloogiin Choibalsan. Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal died on April 20th, 1991 in Moscow at the age of 74.

Paul Biya (Cameroon)

Paul Biya is the current president of Cameroon, a title he has held for 35 years. Paul Biya was initially the first Cameroonian Prime Minister between June 30th, 1975 and November 6th, 1982. Paul Biya is the only currently serving head of state who has served for more than 40 years. Biya became the nation’s head of state on November 6th, 1982 after the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Ahmadou Ahidjo.

Impact of long-serving leaders

While most critics focus on the negative consequences of extremely long leadership tenures, there are several arguments for long-serving leaders. One common characteristic seen in countries with long-serving leaders is relative political and social stability which is most evident in Sub-Saharan countries.

Leaders Who Have Served the Longest Terms

RankLeader NameCountryLength of Tenure, Years
1Fidel CastoCuba52
2Chiang Kai-shekRepublic of China47
3Kim II-sungNorth Korea45
4Yumjaagiin TsedenbalMongolian People's Republic44
5Muammar GaddafiLibyan Arab Republic42
6Paul BiyaCameroon41
7Omar BongoGabon41
8Enver HoxhaPeople's Republic of Albania40
9Mohamed AbdelazizSahrawi Arab Democratic Republic39
10Francisco FrancoSpanish State39
11Eamon de ValeraIreland37
12Teodoro Obiang Nguema MbasogoEquatorial Guinea37
13Gnassingbe EyademaTogo37
14Jose Eduardo dos SantosAngola37
15Robert MugabeZimbabwe37
16Josip Broz TitoYugoslavia36
17Antonio de Oliveira SalazarSecond Portuguese Republic36
18Todor ZhivkovPeople's Republic of Bulgaria35
19Ali KhameneiIran35
20Alfredo StroessnerParaguay34

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