/ 4 March 2008

Who is the shortest world leader?

Until Monday there was little argument about the holder of the coveted title of shortest leader in the world: at 162cm, or a shade over five feet three inches, Kim Jong-il, supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Great Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea, stood head and shoulders below the rest of the field.

The only other man in with a shout, according to the list at shortsupport.org, was Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, who stands 168cm, or just over 5ft 5in tall. This may make him about four inches shorter than Mrs Sarkozy, but is unlikely to give Kim many sleepless nights.

The election of Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev as President of Russia, however, has upset things.

For, contrary to the impression given by a campaign poster that shows him standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his mentor, Vladimir Putin, Medvedev also measures 162cm from top to toe — a figure that puts him very much in contention. (For the record, Putin is fully 8cm taller; Medvedev’s minders make sure he is photographed from a low angle, and advise him to take a step forward when he’s in a group.)

More precise measurements are plainly required to settle the matter. But historically, all three are giants.

The shortest world leader on record was Benito Juarez, five-time president of Mexico between 1867 and 1872, at 4ft 6in. Engelbert Dollfuss, Austrian chancellor from 1932 to 1934, stood 4ft 11in in his socks. David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, was 5ft, as was Deng Xiaoping, de facto leader of China throughout the 1980s.

Yasser Arafat was 5ft 2in, Nikita Kruschev 5ft 3in, and Haile Selassie 5ft 4in. But before you go constructing any theories, some historians now argue that Napoleon Bonaparte, the original pint-sized despot, was not 5ft 2in but 5ft 6in. So size may not mean anything after all. — guardian.co.uk Â