Electing foreigners

Everyone knows that the US constitution forbids a foreign-born citizen from ever becoming President. However, there is nothing to stop an American from coming over here (UK), getting into politics and eventually becoming Prime Minister? Has anything like this ever actually happened? Has any country ever elected a foreigner as it’s leader? I can’t think of any examples offhand.

And I’m talking about democracy. No smartass answers about invasions or military coups, please.

The British prime minister Andrew Bonar Law was born in Canada and lived there until he was twelve years old. He was, however, a British subject from birth.

Eamon de Valera, who was president of Ireland, was born in New York of an Irish mother and a Cuban father.

George, Elector of Hannover was born in Hannover and was naturalised as a British subject by Act of Parliament in 1701 at the age of 41, and thirteen years later succeeded to the British throne as George I on the death of Queen Anne. He was succeeded by his son George II, who was also born in Hannover, not a British subject at birth, but was naturalised at the age of 18.

Mary McAleese, the current president of Ireland, was born and grew up in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, and her private (as opposed to official) residence is in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not part of the state of which she is President.

Ah, but you don’t vote for kings. (The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad… sorry, sorry.) The OP stipulated elected leaders.

The people of Peru apparently elected a Japanese national for president, though it would seem without knowing it. (Without knowing his status, that is. I’m sure they noticed they were having an election at the time.)

I’m pretty sure a president of one of those ex-Soviet republics is a Canadian by birth and only moved back recently and ran and won the election.

I think this is right, but I can’t find a cite since it’s kind of difficult when you don’t have the country. Anyone?

Are you thinking of Valdas Adamkus, president of Lithuania? He’s American though, not Canadian, so I might not be thinking what you’re thinking.

You’re right. It also stipulated democracy, and it would be stretching a point to call Great Britain a democracy in the early eighteenth century.

However, it’s worth pointing out that George I (and his successors) were effectively chosen as kings by Parliament, which passed the Act of Settlement in 1701 naturalising them, and altering the rules for succeeding to the crown so that it would in due course pass to them, which would not otherwise have happened. It wasn’t a straightforward ineritance by existing rules of succession, and it did involve a choice made by a supposedly representative national body. A bit like an electoral college, really, except that parliament was itself directly elected by (some) citizens, while the early US electoral college was not.

American Sam Houston was elected President of the Republic of Texas.

The Danish prince Carl was elected king of Norway in 1905. Or to be specific, the men of Norway (not women) voted for monarchy over republic, but it was known that in the case of monarchy, prince Carl would be the king. He changed his name and became king Haakon 7th of Norway. (More info)

Admittedly, Norwegian monarchs in modern times don’t have much power. AFAIK, all prime ministers have been Norwegian-born.

Most any nation which began its existance as a democracy would seem to qualify. I’m thinking Israel in particular, here… I don’t remember who the first leader of (modern) Israel was (it wasn’t Einstein), but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a native Israeli.

You want David Ben-Gurion. He was born in Plonsk, which was then in Russia and is now in Poland.

I think we need to distinguish between a leader born in territory which subsequently forms part of the state that he rules, and a leader born in territory which never forms part of the state that he rules. I suspect that none, or virtually none, of the Israeli leaders were born in the state of Israel, if only because they will have been born before 1948. But quite a number were born into what was then Palestine, and is now Israel.

Though he fought in the German army in the Great War, Adolf Hitler was an Austrian citizen until 1932.

Only four - Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon. None of them were born after 1948.

Bibi was born in 1949.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga was born in Latvia in 1937 when it was an independant country. Her parents (& her) fled Latvia as a result of WWII and eventually settled in Canada. She was naturalized a Canadian. She moved to Latvia to lead the Institute of Latvia, an organization devoted to promoting Latvia abroad in 1998. She was elected president by the Saeima in 1999.

Apparently the presidency of France is open to anyone born either in France or in any territory where France once held dominion, so anyone born in the land of the Louisiana Purchase could qualify even if he didn’t naturalize as a French citizen. I don’t believe this has ever happened but a few months ago people were joking about Bill Clinton running for the job.


I think that’s a special case, given that the Republic of Texas was established and heavily populated by expatriate Americans.

If Kerry had won the presidency, would Theresa Heinz-Kerry have been the first foreign-born First Lady of the US? (She was born in, I believe, Mozambique)

John A. Macdonald was elected the first Prime Minister of Canada in 1867. He was born in Scotland and his family moved to Kingston when he was young.

The Australian Constitution forbids members of parliament owing allegiance to foreign countries. However, it was written before there was such a thing as Australian citizenship: from 1901 to 1949, you would have had to be a British subject to be an MP, and hence to be prime minister. The third Australian prime minister, J.C. Watson, was born a British subject, but was either born at sea or was born in Chile (historians aren’t certain which). Presumably he never claimed Chilean citizenship, since that would have made him ineligible.

Louisa Johnson aka Mrs John Quincy Adams was born in Britain. Ms. Heinz-Kerry would’ve been the first African-American First Lady.