How Long is ‘Too Long’? Meet 10 Long-serving Western Leaders

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In western media reporting of EPRDF’s election win, three points were common. The margin of win, the length of EPRDF rule and the tenure of its leader. Portraying each as events unparalleled in the history of western democracy. [The margin of win is dealt with in my previous post Election-Win-EPRDF-Style’ in 8 Liberal Countries.]

Some media stated the length of EPRDF rule & Meles Zenawi tenure as a matter of fact without much ado. Others chose to present it with an implicit message that it’s ‘too long’ and ‘wrong’. A few were so oblivious as to compare it with unelected tyrants in Africa and Asia.

My initial reaction was to snub them as western bias on Africa. Plus, most were minor media outlets. However, Jody Clarke’s misleading news report, cited in my previous post, provoked me to give it a look. That was not only because it was published on Irish Times.

Jody Clarke stated “the ruling [EPRDF] ran away with the national elections, giving its leader Meles Zenawi another term in office. As prime minister, he has already served 19 years, a suspiciously long time, no doubt, but just two longer than our own Eamon de Valera did as Taoiseach [Prime Minister]”

This is deceit, to say the least, lest Jody Clarke is ignorant of her own history. The truth is Meles served 4 years as Transitional Government President and 14 years as Prime Minister of FDRE. On the other hand, Eamon de Valera served 21 as Prime Minister and another 14years as President of the Republic of Ireland. When he left office, he was ill and 91 years old!

That is not all.
Dominant political parties and long-serving leaders are abound in the history of western democracy.

Curiously, such data is not readily available, while the list of long serving African leaders can be found all over the place in different formats and colorful presentations.

Thus, thinking it is incumbent on me to uncover the hypocrisy, I took a brief look at the tenure of the leaders and political parties in western democracies.[See my forthcoming post for the list of dominant parties in the west]

NOTE THAT: The list below is not comprehensive, since my survey didn’t cover all western democracies and was intended to find cases comparable to Ethiopia.

Meles Zenawi (1955-still)

Service: served 4 years as President of the Transitional Government(1991-1995); Prime Minister of FDRE for 15 years(1995-present); and EPRDF leader for 21 years(1989-present)

Reason for leaving office: pledged to retire no later than 2015, at the end of his fourth term

HERE ARE NINE of the long-serving leaders in the west:

  • To preclude disputes on their democratic credentials, only western/industrialized democracies are included (of course, Australia typifies as a western democracy)
  • All countries listed below have parliamentary system, same as Ethiopia(except for Finland & Ireland which have semi-parliamentary system)
  • Each leader listed below had been elected for four or more terms and/or served for 2 decades.

To your surprise most left office either due to health problem or death or retired when they are too old.

I. TAGE ERLANDER (1901-85)

Service: served both as Prime Minister of Sweden and leader of Social Democratic party for 23 years(1946-69)

Reason for leaving office: retired on 1969 at age 68



Service: Prime Minister of Finland for 5 years in 1950-56, of which in 3 he held both the posts of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

President of Finland for 23 years(1958-1982)

In 1978, he won his fourth term as president by 87% of the votes. However, rapidly worsening illness, arteriosclerosis, forced him to resign 3 years before the end of his term in 1981.

Reason for leaving office: resigned on 1981 due to failing health, at age 81



Service: leader of  Social Democratic party for 21 years(1925-46) and Prime Minister of Sweden for 14 years(1932-46)

Reason for leaving office: died in office



Service: served both as Prime Minister of Canada and leader of Liberal Party for 16 years(1968-84)

Reason for leaving office: resigned at age 65



Service: Leader of Liberal Party of Australia for 22 years(194-1966);

Prime Minister of Australia for 19 years(1939-41, 1949-1966).

Reason for leaving office: pressured to resign due to WWII controversy, at age 68


VI. HELMUT KOHL (1930 – still)

Service: served for 25 years (1973-1998) as Chairman of CDU-Christian Democrat

for 16 years (1982-1998) as Prime Minister of Germany

Reason for leaving office: lost election


VII. W.L.MACKENZI KING (1874-1950)

Service: leader of Liberal Party of Canada for 29 years (1919-48);

Prime Minister of Canada for 22 years (1921-30, 35-48)

Reason for leaving office: resigned due to failing health, at the age of 73


VIII. Jean-Claude Juncker (1954-still)

Service: serving both as Prime Minister of Luxembourg and leader of Christian Social People’s Party for 15 years and counting (1995-still) – his fourth 5-years term started in 2010.

Reason for leaving office: No plan to resign yet.(in fact, he rejected media speculations about resignation)


IX. EAMON DE VALERA (1882-1975)

Service: served for 34 years (1925-1959) as leader of his party Fianna Fáil;

for 21 years as Prime Minister of Ireland and (1932-48, 1951-54, and 1957-58) and

for 14 years as President of Ireland, (1959-1973). He resigned before the end of his term.

Reason for leaving office:

He left the premiership to run for president

Resigned from the presidency due to failing health at age 91.



[included in this list to satisfy those who think US democracy is the ideal one.]


Service: President of the United States for 12 years (1933–45).

In 1945, Roosevelt ran for fourth term and won the election by a popular vote of 25 million to 22 million and an electoral college vote of 432 to 99, despite the fact that he was suffering from arteriosclerosis for about a year.

However, he died at the beginning of his fourth four years term, three months after making his Inaugural Address.

Reason for leaving office: died in office.

Technorati Tags: Ethiopia, 

Daniel Berhane