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The old guard: Joe Biden seems like a spring chicken compared to some of these guys

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When the U.S. president on Tuesday announced that he would seek reelection in 2024, attention quickly turned to his advanced age. 

If elected, Joe Biden would be 82 on inauguration day in 2025, and 86 on leaving the White House in January 2029. 

POLITICO took a look around the globe and back through history to meet some other elected world leaders who continued well into their octogenarian years, at a time when most people have settled for their dressing gown and slippers, some light gardening, and complaining about young people. 

Here are seven of the oldest — and yes, they’re all men.

Paul Biya

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President of Cameroon Paul Biya | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The world’s oldest serving leader, Cameroon’s president has been in power since 1982, winning his (latest) reelection at the age of 85 with a North Korea-esque 71.28 percent of the vote. 

Spanning more than four decades and seven consecutive terms — in 2008, a constitutional reform lifted term limits — Biya’s largely undisputed reign has not come without controversy. 

His opponents have regularly accused him of election fraud, claiming he successfully built a state apparatus designed to keep him in power.

Notorious for his lavish trips to a plush palace on the banks of Lake Geneva, which he’s visited more than 50 times, Biya keeps stretching the limits of retirement. Although he has not formally announced a bid for the next presidential elections in 2025, his party has called on him to run again in spite of his declining health.

Last February, celebrations were organized throughout the country for the president’s 90th birthday. According to the government, young people spontaneously came out on the streets to show their love for Biya.

Konrad Adenauer

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Former Chancellor of West Germany Konrad Adenauer | Keystone/Getty Images

West Germany’s iconic first chancellor was elected for his inaugural term at the tender age of 73, but competed and won a third and final term at the age of 85. 

In his 14-year chancellorship (1949-1963), Adenauer shaped Germany’s postwar years with a strong focus on integrating the young democracy into the West. Big milestones such as the integration of Germany into the European Economic Community and joining the NATO alliance just a few years after World War II happened under his leadership. 

If his nickname “der Alte” (“the old man”) is one day bestowed upon Biden, the U.S. president would share it with a true friend of America. 

Ali Khamenei

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Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei | AFP via Getty Images

84-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all strategic issues in Iran, and his rule has been marked by murderous brutality against opponents. 

That violence has only escalated in recent years, with mass arrests and the imposition of the death penalty against those protesting his dictatorial rule. A mere middle-ranking cleric in the 1980s, few expected Khamenei to succeed Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran’s supreme leader, and he took the top job in hurried, constitutionally dubious circumstances in 1989. 

A pipe-smoker and player of the tar, a traditional stringed instrument, he was president during the attritional Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and survived a bomb attack against him in 1981 that crippled his arm.

Thankfully for Khamenei, he doesn’t have the stress of facing elections to wear him down. 

Robert Mugabe

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President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe | Michael Nagle/Getty Images

You’ve heard the saying “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” — well, here’s a classic case study. 

Robert Mugabe’s political career reached soaring heights before crashing to depressing lows, during his nearly four decades ruling over Zimbabwe. He came to power as a champion of the anti-colonial struggle, but his rule descended into authoritarianism — while he oversaw the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and society. 

Though Mugabe’s final election win was marred by allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation, the longtime leader chalked up a thumping, landslide victory in 2013, aged 89.  

He was finally, permanently, removed as leader well into his nineties, during a coup d’etat in 2017. He died two years later. 

Giorgio Napolitano

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Italian President Giorgio Napolitano | Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

The former Italian president took his largely symbolic role to new heights when, aged 86, he successfully steered the country through a perilous transition of power in 2011 — closing that particular chapter of Silvio Berlusconi’s story. 

Operating mostly behind the scenes, Napolitano saw five PMs come and go during his eight-and-a-half years in office, at a time when Italian politics were rife with instability (but hey, what’s new?).

Reelected against his will in 2013 at 87 — he had wanted to step down, but gave in after a visit from party leaders desperate to put Italy’s political landscape back on an even keel — Napolitano won the nickname “Re Giorgio” (King George) for his statesmanship.

When he resigned two years later, he said: “Here [in the presidential palace], it’s all very beautiful, but it’s a bit like jail. At home, I’ll be ok, I can go out for a walk.”

Mahmoud Abbas

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Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“It has been a very good day,” Javier Solana, the then European Union foreign policy chief, exclaimed when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005.

As a tireless advocate of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abbas has enjoyed strong backing from the international community.

But three EU policy chiefs later and with lasting peace no closer, Abbas is still in power, despite most polls showing that Palestinians want him to step aside. 

His solution for political survival: No presidential elections have been held in the Palestinian Territories since that historic ballot in 2005, with the Palestinian leadership blaming either Israel or the prospect of rising Hamas influence for the postponement of elections.

While Abbas seems to have found a solution for political survival, the physical survival of the 87-year-old chain smoker is now being called into question.

William Gladstone

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William Ewart Gladstone | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Queen Victoria reportedly described Gladstone as a “half-mad firebrand” — and you’d have to be to chase a fourth term as prime minister aged 82. 

At that point Gladstone had already outlived Britain’s life expectancy at the time by decades. 

During his career, Gladstone expanded the vote for men — but failed to pass a system of home rule in Ireland, and he was slammed for alleged inaction to help British soldiers who were slaughtered in the Siege of Khartoum. 

Gladstone was Britain’s oldest-ever prime minister when he eventually stepped down at 84 — and no one has beaten that record since. Similarly, no one has served more than his four (nonconsecutive) terms. 

But should the Tories remain addicted to chaos, who’d bet against Boris Johnson starting his fifth stint as PM in 2049? 

Ali Walker and Christian Oliver contributed reporting.



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( With inputs from : www.politico.eu )

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