Updated at 9:30 p.m. ET on July 12, 2020
American presidents customarily leave office when voters reject them. Czars, emperors, and would-be prime ministers for life do whatever they can to hold on to power. To extend his rule until 2036, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held a referendum to amend his country’s constitution. While some Russians publicly opposed the proposal, few had any doubt about the outcome. Two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping succeeded in eliminating term limits that had been established after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution—a period of ideological madness that killed tens of millions of people, including family members of the country’s ruling class. In his grand presidential address of 2017, Xi stated specific objectives for his nation to achieve by 2025, 2035, and 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China—suggesting that he intended to lead China until at least 2035 (when he would be 82).
Even in democracies, circumstances sometimes allow deeply compromised leaders to remain in office. Benjamin Netanyahu has already become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, having survived repeated scandals. He is currently facing an indictment for bribery and fraud brought by Israel’s attorney general. In the past year, even though he could not win a majority of the Israeli Parliament in three successive elections, Netanyahu successfully maneuvered to keep his position on each occasion. Now in the second month of a three-year “deal” with Defense Minister Benny Gantz that allows him to remain prime minister for 18 months, Netanyahu has made a commitment to swap roles for the subsequent 18 months. But many expect him to renege on those terms, or try to renegotiate them, before Gantz takes over.