Before presidents and prime ministers were assigned specific term limits to rule a country, there were monarchs who would reign for decades. Kings and queens would cling to power until a coup happened, were assassinated, or died under normal circumstances. On the other hand, while there is no one-fits-all rule for how long a head of state can rule, some have ruled for what we can all agree was a considerably short time. Here, we discuss some of the shortest-serving world leaders in history.

1. Pedro Lascurain (45 Minutes)

At the time of writing, Pedro Lascurain holds the Guinness World Record for being the shortest-serving president ever. He ascended to power on February 19, 1913, and only ruled for about 45 minutes. Recognized as the 38th president of Mexico, Lascurain was the successor of President Francisco Maderno, who had been removed by a coup d’etat.

In his 45-minute reign, Pedro Lascurain was commanded to pick General Victoriano Huerta, the coup’s leader, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. After making this appointment, Lascurain resigned, and General Victoriano Huerta became president.

2. Siaka Stevens (1 Hour)

The story of President Siaka Stevens is quite interesting because he served one of the shortest and longest terms as Prime Minister of Sierra Leone. In 1967, Stevens was duly elected by the people of Sierra Leone as Prime Minister. This news did not please the incumbent Prime Minister, who sent the army to arrest him.

Upon arrival, they found Siaka Stevens had already been sworn in and was the Prime Minister for about an hour. He was detained but reclaimed the seat in a coup 14 days later. The second time around, Siaka Stevens ruled Sierra Leone for 17 years. Technically, he is one of the shortest and longest-serving African leaders.

3. Hezekiah Ochuka (6 Hours)

On August 1, 1982, Hezekiah Ochuka and his accomplices from the Kenya Air Force attempted a coup d’etat to oust the then-president, Daniel Moi. While the coup d’état somewhat succeeded, Ochuka only “led the country” for about six hours before President Moi reclaimed his seat.

Besides taking over the national broadcasting radio station and forcing a presenter to declare him the president, Hezekiah Ochuka didn’t attain much during his 6-hour tenure. He was arrested, charged with treason, and hanged alongside his accomplices.

4. Joseph Goebbels (1 Day)

Contrary to popular belief, the Nazi reign didn’t end after Hitler’s death. When Hitler allegedly took away his own life, his second in command, Joseph Goebbels, took over as the new Chancellor of Germany. In his one-day rule as leader of the Nazis, Joseph brought together the entire leadership and encouraged them to stay strong and keep on fighting the enemies. Later on, Joseph Goebbels also committed suicide with his wife and children.

5. Carlos Coimbra da Luz (3 Days)

After the suicide of President Getulio Vargas in 1954, Brazil had three presidents. One was Carlos Coimbra da Luz, who took over from the first successor of Getulio, Joao Café Filho, in 1955. His reign lasted only three days before being replaced by the VP, Nereu Ramos, following orders from the then Minister of Defense Henrique Teixeira. According to the general, he assumed that Carlos Coimbra da Luz would have attempted to deny the president-elect from ascending to power.

6. King Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (3 Days)

In 2001, Prince Dipendra of Nepal opened fire on his members of the Royal Family, killing his father and mother before unconsciously ascending to the status of a king. It is believed that this massacre happened following an argument over who the prince should take as his bride.

The prince then pointed the gun at himself and pulled the trigger, but he did not die. Instead, he fell into a coma, and with his father dead, the prince was now the King. However, he did not enjoy his new status because he was in a coma. An uncle took over the throne from King Dipendra after three days.

7. Frank Forde (8 Days)

When John Curtin, the 14th Prime Minister of Australia, died on July 5, 1945, Frank Forde, his assistant, took over as the caretaker head of the country. Frank Forde ruled for 8 days before an election was held. He contested in the general election and failed, so he handed over power after about a week.

8. William Henry Harrison (32 Days)

William Henry Wilson, the ninth president of the US, was elected when he was 68, making him one of the oldest to be declared US president. He also holds the record for delivering the longest inaugural address after his election. Unfortunately, he was only president for 32 days, as he succumbed to pneumonia on April 4, 1841.

9. King Umberto II of Italy (34 Days)

King Umberto’s 34-day reign is surprising, considering that his predecessors ruled for decades. In 1946, King Umberto II succeeded his father, King Vittorio Emmanuelle III. At the time, most European countries had broken away from monarchies in favor of republics. As such, this succession wasn’t received well by the public.

After reading the room, King Umberto II called for a referendum, hoping the people would choose him. To his surprise, the majority opted against the monarchy, and Enrico De Nicola succeeded him as the first leader of the new Republic of Italy. His short reign got King Umberto II the nickname “May King.”

10. Ernest Shonekan (3 Months)

Ernest Shonekan, the ninth president of Nigeria, only ruled for three months. After the people of Nigeria demanded a democratic government, Ernest Shonekan took power from Gen Ibrahim Babangida in 1993. However, three months later, the country was hit by another coup d’état, which led to the removal of Shonekan as president. Nigeria was then under the hands of senior military officers.

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General Knowledge, History,

Last Update: June 28, 2024