Term limit

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This article is about the legal and political issue. For the book by Vince Flynn, see Term Limits (novel).

A term limit is a legal restriction that limits the number of terms an officeholder may serve in a particular elected office. When term limits are found in presidential and semi-presidential systems they act as a method to curb the potential for monopoly, where a leader effectively becomes "president for life". This is intended to protect a democracy from becoming a de facto dictatorship. Sometimes, there is an absolute limit on the number of terms an officeholder can serve, while, in other cases, the restrictions are merely on the number of consecutive terms.



Term limits have a long history. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, two early classic republics, had term limits imposed on their elected offices as did the city-state of Venice.[1]

In ancient Athenian democracy, only offices selected by sortition were subject to term limits (one term of one year for each office, except members of the council of 500 (boule), where it was possible to serve two one-year terms, non-consecutively). Elected offices were all subject to possible re-election, although they were minoritarian, these positions were more prestigious and those requiring the most experience, such as military generals and the superintendent of springs.

In the Roman Republic, a law was passed imposing a limit of a single term on the office of censor. The annual magistratestribune of the plebs, aedile, quaestor, praetor, and consul—were forbidden reelection until a number of years had passed.[2] (see cursus honorum, Constitution of the Roman Republic). Also there was a term limit of 6 months for a dictator.


Many modern presidential republics employ term limits for their highest offices. The United States placed a limit of two terms on its presidency by means of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1951. There are no term limits for Vice Presidency, Representatives and Senators, although there have been calls for term limits for those offices. Under various state laws, some state governors and state legislators have term limits. Formal limits in America date back to the 1682 Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties, and the colonial frame of government of the same year, authored by William Penn and providing for triennial rotation of the provincial council, the upper house of the colonial legislature.[3] (See also term limits in the United States).

The Russian Federation has a rule for the head of state that allows the President of Russia to serve more than two terms if not consecutive (as in the case of Vladimir Putin). For governors of federal subjects, the same two-term limit existed until 2004, but now there are no term limits for governors.

Term limits are also common in Latin America, where most countries are also presidential republics. Early in the last century, the Mexican revolutionary Francisco Madero popularized the slogan Sufragio Efectivo, no Reelección (effective suffrage, no reelection). In keeping with that principle, members of the Congress of Mexico (the Chamber of Deputies and Senate) cannot be reelected for the next immediate term under article 50 and 59 of the Constitution of Mexico, adopted in 1917. Likewise, the President of Mexico is limited to a single six-year term. This makes every presidential election in Mexico a non-incumbent election.

Countries that operate a parliamentary system of government are less likely to employ term limits on their leaders. This is because such leaders rarely have a set "term" at all: rather, they serve as long as they have the confidence of the parliament, a period which could potentially last for life. Many parliaments can be dissolved for snap elections which means some parliaments can last for mere months while others can continue until their expiration dates. Nevertheless, such countries may impose term limits on the holders of other offices—in republics, for example, a ceremonial presidency may have a term limit, especially if the office holds reserve powers.


Term limits may be divided into two broad categories: consecutive and lifetime. With consecutive term limits, a legislator is limited to serving a particular number of years in that particular office. Upon hitting the limit in one office or chamber, a legislator may run for election to the other chamber or leave the legislature. After a set period of time (usually two years), the clock resets on the limit, and the legislator may run for election to his/her original seat and serve up to the limit again.

With lifetime limits, once a legislator has served up to the limit, she/he may never again run for election to that office. Lifetime limits are much more restrictive than consecutive limits.

Notable examples[edit]

Relaxed term limits[edit]

Names indexed by surnames Image Countries and localities Official positions Earlier term limits Later term limits
Bloomberg, Michael Michael R Bloomberg.jpg United States; New York City Mayor (2002–13) 2 terms of 4 years 3 terms of 4 years from 2008 to 2010; 2 terms of 4 years since 2010
Cardoso, Fernando Henrique Fhc-color.jpg Brazil President of Brazil (1995–2003) 1 term of 4 years 2 terms of 4 years since 1997
Chávez, Hugo Hugo Chávez (02-04-2010).jpg Venezuela President of Venezuela (1999–2013) 2 terms of 6 years Unlimited terms of 6 years since the 2009 amendment of the 1999 Venezuelan constitution
Clinton, Bill 44 Bill Clinton 3x4.jpg United States; Arkansas Governor of Arkansas (1979–81, 1983–92) 2 consecutive terms of 2 years 2 consecutive terms of 2 years until 1986, then 2 consecutive terms of 4 years
Chiang Kai-shek Chiang Kai-shek(蔣中正).jpg China, Republic of (Mainland and Taiwan Eras) President (1948–49, 1950–75) 2 terms of 6 years Unlimited terms of 6 years since 1960[4]
Menem, Carlos Menem con banda presidencial.jpg Argentina President of Argentina (1989–99) 1 term of 6 years, re-eligible after 6 years 2 terms of 4 years, re-elegible after 4 years; Menem was banned to reelection in 1999 because his first term was counted as one of 4
Museveni, Yoweri Yoweri Museveni September 2015.jpg Uganda President of Uganda (1986–present) 2 terms of 5 years Served 2 terms of 5 years before 1995 constitution imposed 2-term limit. Served 2 additional terms of 5 years; constitution was revised in 2005, removing term limits
Patton, Paul E. Paul E. Patton 2013.jpg United States; Kentucky Governor of Kentucky (1995–2003) 1 term of 4 years 2 terms of 4 years
Perón, Juan Domingo Juan Domingo Perón.jpg Argentina President of Argentina (1946–55, 1973–74) 1 term of 6 years, re-eligible after 6 years Unlimited terms of 6 years. In 1973 he was elected to 1 term of 4 years.
Putin, Vladimir Putin with flag of Russia.jpg Russia President of Russia (1999–2008, 2012–present) 2 terms of 4 years 2 terms of 6 years since 2008
Rahmon, Emomali Tajikistan President of Tajikistan (1994–present) 1 terms of 5 years 1 term of 7 years since 1999, 2 terms of 7 years since 2003, term count reset in 2006, all term limits removed in 2016.[5][6]
Sharif, Nawaz Nawaz Sharif January 2015.jpg Pakistan Prime Minister of Pakistan (1990–93, 1997–99, 2013–present) 2 terms of 5 years Unlimited terms of 5 years since 2011
Uribe, Álvaro Álvaro Uribe Velez (cropped).jpg Colombia President (2002–10) 1 term of 4 years 2 terms of 4 years since 2004
Yuan Shikai Yuan shikai.jpg China, Republic of (Beiyang Government) President (1912–15, 1916) 2 terms of 5 years[7] Unlimited terms of 10 years since 1914[8]

Tightened term limits[edit]

Names indexed by surnames Image Countries and localities Official positions Earlier term limits Later term limits
Brown, Jerry Edmund G Brown Jr.jpg United States; California Governor (1975–83) (2011–present) no term limit 2 terms of 4 years
Castro, Raúl Raúl Castro, July 2012.jpeg Cuba President of Cuba (2008–present) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2013
dos Santos, José Eduardo José Eduardo dos Santos 3.jpg Angola President of Angola (1979–present) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2010
Mugabe, Robert Mugabecloseup2008.jpg Zimbabwe President of Zimbabwe (1987–present) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2013
Sall, Macky Macky Sall .jpg Senegal President of Senegal (2012–present) 2 terms of 7 years 2 terms of 5 years since 2016
Santos, Juan Manuel Juan Manuel Santos and Lula (cropped).jpg Colombia President of Colombia (2010–present) 2 terms of 4 years 1 term of 4 years since 2018

People who would have run afoul of modern term limits[edit]

Names indexed by surnames Image Countries and localities Official positions Earlier term limits Later term limits
Mitterrand, François Reagan Mitterrand 1984 (cropped 2).jpg France President of France (1981–95) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2008
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano FDR 1944 Color Portrait.tif United States President of the United States (1933–45) No term limit 2 terms of 4 years since 1951
Suharto President Suharto, 1993.jpg Indonesia President of Indonesia (1968–98) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 1999

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Keefe, Eric (2008). "Term Limits". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 504–06. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n308. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024. ... Political scientist Mark Petracca has outlined the importance of rotation in the ancient Republics of Athens, Rome, Venice, and Florence. The Renaissance city-state of Venice [also] required rotation.... 
  2. ^ Robert Struble, Jr., Treatise on Twelve Lights, chapter six, part II, "Rotation in History."
  3. ^ Francis N. Thorpe, ed., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and other Organic Laws..., 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909) 5:3048, 3055–56, 3065.
  4. ^ Based on the amended Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion until it was abolished in 1991.
  5. ^ Konstantin Parshin (23 April 2013). "Tajikistan: Can Rahmon Keep Running?". Eurasianet. Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  6. ^ Peter Leonard (23 May 2016). "Tajikistan Vote Allows President to Rule Indefinitely". ABC News. Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]

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