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The 5 Longest-Serving World Leaders

Russian President Vladimir Putin has led the former Soviet Union since the turn of the century, when U.S. President Bill Clinton was preparing to hand over power to George W. Bush. Putin, expected to win a fourth term that would end in 2024, was term-limited in 2008 and spent four years as prime minister before returning to the presidency in 2012.

Putin may become the longest-serving Russian leader since dictator Joseph Stalin, but there are world leaders who have been in power far longer, although most retain control through what are widely considered sham elections.

These are five countries where non-royal heads of state have been in power longest.

Kazakhstan

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since 1984 and assumed the newly created office of president in 1990, when Kazakhstan split from the Soviet Union. He was re-elected in 2015 with about 98 percent of the vote; human rights and democracy groups label the country an “authoritarian regime.” Still, Kazakhstan has emerged as a U.S. strategic ally, and Nazarbayev visited the White House in January.

Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was elected president in 1981 and chosen as supreme leader in 1989 by the Assembly of Experts, which has never significantly questioned Khamenei’s rule. Although Iran’s supreme leader outranks and confirms election of the president, deep tension between the two offices has sowed political instability in the country.

Equatorial Guinea

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since an August 1979 military coup, his rule marked by accusations of torture, repression and corruption. Those close to the president live opulent lifestyles fueled by the county’s oil wealth while the majority of the population of more than 1.2 million remains in poverty, according to Human Rights Watch.

Republic of the Congo

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has led the Republic of the Congo since early 1979, excluding several turbulent years in the 1990s. Nguesso lost the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992, but ousted the new leadership and resumed control in 1997. Nguesso won presidential elections in 2002, 2009 and 2016, after spearheading a referendum that removed age and term limits that would have kept him from running.

Cameroon

Paul Biya, who assumed the presidency in 1982, is the longest-ruling non-royal head of state when including his time as prime minister between 1975 and 1982. Cameroon’s parliament passed a controversial measure in 2008 allowing Biya to run for another term, which he went on to win in 2011 despite alleged widespread fraud.

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