Senator for life

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A senator for life is a member of the senate or equivalent upper chamber of a legislature who has life tenure. As of 2021, six Italian senators out of 321, two out of the 41 Burundian senators, one Congolese senator out of 109, and all members of the British House of Lords (apart from the 26 Lords Spiritual who are expected to retire at the age of 70) have lifetime tenure (although Lords can choose to resign or retire or can be expelled in cases of misconduct). Several South American countries once granted lifetime membership to former presidents but have since abolished the practice.


In Burundi, former presidents of the Republic serve in the Senate for life. At present there are two of these: Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and Domitien Ndayizeye.[1][2]

Democratic Republic of the Congo[edit]

The 2006 constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo grants lifetime membership in the Senate to former presidents of the Republic.[3] As of 2019, Joseph Kabila is the only senator for life after serving as president from 2001 to 2019.

The 1964 Congolese constitution also provided for life membership in the Senate for former presidents.[4]


In Italy, a senatore a vita is a member of the Italian Senate appointed by the president of the Italian Republic "for outstanding patriotic merits in the social, scientific, artistic or literary field". There may be up to five appointed senators for life at the same time. Former presidents of the Republic are ex officio senators for life. Currently there are six senators for life (one former president and five appointed).


Former presidents of the Republic, except for those who were impeached from office, are granted the speaking-but-non-voting position of senator for life.[5]


The lifetime senatorship appeared in the Constitution of Russia as a result of the constitutional reform in 2020. According to the new version of the Constitution, the president has the right to appoint 30 senators for services to the country in the sphere of state and public activity, 7 of whom can be appointed for life. In addition, former presidents (except for those who were impeached from office) become senators for life, but have the right to refuse this office. This was widely seen as a preparation for a future power transition.[6]


The Rwandan Constitution permits former presidents of the country to become members of the Senate if they wish, by submitting a request to the Supreme Court.[7]

Former systems[edit]


In a manner reminiscent of the British House of Lords, members of the Canadian Senate were appointed for life. Since the Constitution Act, 1965, however, senators must retire upon reaching the age of 75. Though senators appointed before the amendment were grandfathered in by the legislation, there are no longer any lifetime senators present in the Canadian Senate. Orville Howard Phillips, the last senator for life, resigned his seat in 1999.


In France, during the Third Republic, the Senate was composed of 300 members, 75 of which were inamovible ("unremovable"). Introduced in 1875, the status was abolished for new senators in 1884, but maintained for those already in office. Émile Deshayes de Marcère, the last surviving sénateur inamovible, died in 1918. Overall there had been 116 lifetime senators.[8]

In 2005, there was questioning about the status of former presidents of the Republic. According to the constitution of the Fifth Republic, former presidents are de jure members of the Constitutional Council, which poses a problem of possible partiality. Some members of Parliament and commentators suggested that it should be replaced by a life membership in the Senate.[9][10] This proposal was, however, not enacted.


The 1923 Constitution instituted the membership by right (senator de drept) in the Senate for:

The membership by right was maintained under the 1938 Constitution and it was abolished together with the Senate on July 15, 1946, by the Communist Party-dominated government of Petru Groza.

Although the current constitution of Romania re-established the bicameral Parliament in 1991, it did not reinstate the office of senator by right.

South and Central America[edit]

The constitutions of a number of countries in South America have granted former presidents the right to be senator for life (senador vitalicio), possibly recalling the entirely unelected Senate of Simón Bolívar's theory (see Bolivar's tricameralism). Most of these countries have since excised these provisions as they are increasingly seen as antidemocratic. The Constitution of Paraguay still has such a provision. Former presidents are permitted to speak but not vote.


The senators of the Empire of Brazil (1826–1889) were appointed for life by the Emperor from a list of three, indirectly elected, candidates for each constituency. For details, see Senate of Brazil: History. There were about 250 senators of the Empire of Brazil. For the list of senators, see pt:Lista de senadores do Brasil


While the 1960 constitution of the Somali Republic (1960–1969) did not provide for a senate (the legislature, known as the National Assembly, was unicameral), it did grant lifetime membership in the legislature to ex-presidents of the Republic.[13] Aden Adde was the only person eligible to hold this position.

United States[edit]

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, New York delegate Alexander Hamilton proposed that all members of the U.S. Senate, which was at time appointed by state legislatures and intended to check the power of the popularly elected House of Representatives, be appointed for life as a safeguard against "amazing violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit." His views did not prevail, and the final U.S. Constitution specified six-year terms for senators.[14]

Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, proposed establishing lifetime Senate appointments for former presidents and former vice presidents as part of a broad set of political proposals in his 2007 book, A More Perfect Constitution.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Post-transition Senators list", Burundian Senate website (in French).
  2. ^ "The Senate composition", Burundian Senate website (in French).
  3. ^ Constitution de la République démocratique du Congo, Article 104 (paragraph 6): "Les anciens Présidents de la République élus sont de droit sénateurs à vie." (Loosely translated, this means "Former Presidents of the Republic are senators by right for life.") Source
  4. ^ "République démocratique du Congo, Constitution du 1er août 1964, Article 75 (paragraph 4): "En sus des sénateurs visés au 2e alinéa du présent article, font de droit, partie à vie du Sénat les anciens présidents de la République."".
  5. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay, 1992, Article 189 (subsection 1): "(1) Former presidents of the Republic who were democratically elected will be national senators for life, except for those who were impeached from office. (2) They will not count toward a quorum. They will have the right to speak, but not to vote."
  6. ^ Закон РФ о поправке к Конституции РФ от 14.03.2020 N 1-ФКЗ "О совершенствовании регулирования отдельных вопросов организации и функционирования публичной власти". Ст. 1
  7. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, Article 82, section 5° (second paragraph): "Former Heads of State who honourably completed their terms or voluntarily resigned from office become members of the Senate by submitting a request to the Supreme Court." Source
  8. ^ "Les sénateurs inamovibles". Archived from the original on 18 June 2006.
  9. ^ La Chiraquie veut protéger son chef quand il quittera l'Elysée, Libération, 14 January 2005
  10. ^ See also the constitutional amendment proposals by senator Patrice Gélard [1][2]
  11. ^ Frei retained his senate seat by being democratically elected in the December 2005 parliamentary elections and was President of the Senate from 2006 to 2008.
  12. ^ "The former presidents of the republic who held the presidency by direct popular vote shall be life members of the Senate; and the presidential candidate of the party that obtained second place in the corresponding popular vote shall be a member of the Senate for the term for which he was nominated." Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua, 1974. Article 127, second paragraph.
  13. ^ Constitution of the Somali Republic, 1960. Article 51 ("National Assembly"), paragraph 4: "Whoever has been President of the Republic shall become a deputy for life as of right, in addition to the elected deputies, provided that he has not been convicted of any of the crimes referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 76."
  14. ^ "U.S. Senate: Seven-year Senate Terms?". Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  15. ^ Sabato, Larry. A More Perfect Constitution.

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