Term limit

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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 of curbing the potential for monopoly, where a leader effectively becomes "president for life". This is intended to protect a republic from becoming a de facto dictatorship. Sometimes, there is an absolute or lifetime limit on the number of terms an officeholder may serve; sometimes, the restrictions are merely on the number of consecutive terms they may serve.



Term limits have a long history. Ancient Athens 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). Additionally, there was a term limit of 6 months for a dictator.


Many[quantify] 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, called the Sexenio. 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.

Between 1982 and 2018, the Constitution of China stipulated that the president, vice president, premier, vice premiers could not serve more than two consecutive terms, though there was no term limit for the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who usually represented the Paramount leader of China. In March 2018, China's party-controlled National People's Congress passed a set of constitutional amendments including removal of term limits for the president and vice president, as well as enhancing the central role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[4][5]


Term limits may be divided into two broad categories: consecutive and lifetime. With consecutive term limits, an officeholder is limited to serving a particular number of terms in that particular office. Upon hitting the limit in one office, an officeholder may not run for the same office again (though they may run for any other elective office). After a set period of time (usually one term), the clock resets on the limit, and the officeholder may run for election to their original office and serve up to the limit again.

With lifetime limits, once an officeholder has served up to the limit, they may never again run for election to that office. Lifetime limits are much more restrictive than consecutive limits.

Notable examples[edit]

Relaxed/reset term limits[edit]

Names indexed by surnames Image Countries and localities Official positions Earlier term limits Later term limits
Bloomberg, Michael Mayor Michael Bloomberg (cropped).jpg United States; New York City Mayor (2002–13) 2 terms of 4 years 3 terms of 4 years from 2008 to 2010; two-term limit restored in 2011
Cardoso, Fernando Henrique Fhc-color.jpg Brazil President of Brazil (1995–2003) 1 term of 5 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 Bill Clinton.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[6]
Lukashenko, Alexander Alexander Lukashenko crop.jpeg Belarus President (1994–present) 2 terms of 5 years Unlimited terms of 5 years since 2004
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-eligible 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, then served 2 additional terms of 5 years; constitution was revised in 2005, removing term limits
Park Chung-hee Park Chung-hee 1963's.png South Korea President of South Korea (1962–1979) 2 terms of 4 years 3 terms of 4 years from 1969 to 1972; unlimited terms of 6 years since 1972
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; change was signed into law by Patton's predecessor, Brereton Jones, but only applied starting with his successor
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; elected to 1 term of 4 years in 1973
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; term count reset in 2020
Rahmon, Emomali Emomali Rahmon in 2016 (cropped).jpg 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.[7][8]
Rhee Syngman Rhee Syng-Man in 1956.jpg South Korea President of South Korea (1948–1960) 2 terms of 4 years Unlimited terms of 4 years since 1954
El-Sisi, Abdel Fattah Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.jpg Egypt President of Egypt (2014–present) 2 terms of 4 years 2 terms of 6 years since 2019; eligible to run for a third and final 6-year term in 2024
Sharif, Nawaz Nawaz Sharif January 2015.jpg Pakistan Prime Minister of Pakistan (1990–93, 1997–99, 2013–2017) 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
Xi Jinping Xi Jinping 2019.jpg China; Communist Party President (2013–present) 2 terms of 5 years Unlimited terms of 5 years since 2018[9]
Yuan Shikai Yuan shikai.jpg China, Republic of (Beiyang Government) President (1912–15, 1916) 2 terms of 5 years[10] Unlimited terms of 10 years since 1914[11]

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) (2011–2019) No term limit 2 terms of 4 years (lifetime limit)
Castro, Raúl Raúl Castro, July 2012.jpeg Cuba; Communist Party President of the Council of State (2008–2018) No term limit 2 consecutive terms of 5 years since 2013
dos Santos, José Eduardo José Eduardo dos Santos 3.jpg Angola President of Angola (1979–2017) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2010
Mugabe, Robert Mugabecloseup2008.jpg Zimbabwe President of Zimbabwe (1987–2017) 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 in 2018.jpg Colombia President of Colombia (2010–2018) 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
Franklin D. Roosevelt FDR 1944 Color Portrait.jpg United States President of the United States (1933–1945) No term limit 2 terms of 4 years since 1947
Ben-Zvi, Yitzhak Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.jpg Israel President of Israel (1952–63) No term limit 2 consecutive terms of 5 years from 1964 to 1998; 1 term of 7 years since 1998
Carmona, Óscar Carmona.jpg Portugal President of Portugal (1926–51) No term limit 2 consecutive terms of 5 years since 1976
Kekkonen, Urho Urho-Kekkonen-1977-c.jpg Finland President of Finland (1956–82) No term limit 2 consecutive terms of 6 years since 1991
Mitterrand, François Reagan Mitterrand 1984 (cropped 2).jpg France President of France (1981–95) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 2008
Suharto President Suharto, 1993.jpg Indonesia President of Indonesia (1968–98) No term limit 2 terms of 5 years since 1999
Tomás, Américo AmericoThomaz.png Portugal President of Portugal (1958–74) No term limit 2 consecutive terms of 5 years since 1976


Research shows that legislative term limits increase legislative polarization,[12] reduce the legislative skills of politicians,[13][14][15] reduce the legislative productivity of politicians,[16] weaken legislatures vis-a-vis the executive,[17] and reduce voter turnout.[18] Parties respond to the implementation of term limits by recruiting candidates for office on more partisan lines.[19]

Term limits have not reduced campaign spending,[20] nor have they reduced the gender gap in political representation,[21] nor have they increased the diversity of law-makers,[22] and they have also not increased the constituent service activities of law-makers.[23]

Many presidents did try to overstay over the term limit by various methods.[24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Keefe, Eric (2008). "Term Limits". In Hamowy, Ronald (ed.). 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." Archived 11 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  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. ^ Shi, Jiangtao; Huang, Kristin (26 February 2018). "End to term limits at top 'may be start of global backlash for China'". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 27 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  5. ^ Phillips, Tom (4 March 2018). "Xi Jinping's power play: from president to China's new dictator?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  6. ^ Based on the amended Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion until it was abolished in 1991.
  7. ^ Konstantin Parshin (23 April 2013). "Tajikistan: Can Rahmon Keep Running?". Eurasianet. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  8. ^ Peter Leonard (23 May 2016). "Tajikistan Vote Allows President to Rule Indefinitely". ABC News. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  9. ^ Liangyu, ed. (25 February 2018). "CPC proposes change on Chinese president's term in Constitution". Xinhuanet. Archived from the original on 25 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ Olson, Michael; Rogowski, Jon C (11 October 2019). "Legislative Term Limits and Polarization". The Journal of Politics. 82 (2): 572–586. doi:10.1086/706764. ISSN 0022-3816. S2CID 211453078.
  13. ^ Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie; Thompson, Lyke; Elder, Charles D.; Comins, Meg; Elling, Richard C.; Strate, John (1 December 2006). "Democracy among Strangers: Term Limits' Effects on Relationships between State Legislators in Michigan". State Politics & Policy Quarterly. 6 (4): 384–409. doi:10.1177/153244000600600402. ISSN 1532-4400. S2CID 155402263.
  14. ^ Burgat, Casey (18 January 2018). "Five reasons to oppose congressional term limits". Brookings. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  15. ^ "Post". Mischiefs of Faction. 20 January 2020. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  16. ^ "How do electoral incentives affect legislator behavior?". LegBranch. 19 June 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  17. ^ "Adapting to Term Limits: Recent Experiences and New Directions". Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  18. ^ Nalder, Kimberly (2007). "The Effect of State Legislative Term Limits on Voter Turnout". State Politics & Policy Quarterly. 7 (2): 187–210. doi:10.1177/153244000700700207. ISSN 1532-4400. JSTOR 40421578. S2CID 155278603.
  19. ^ Masket, Seth; Shor, Boris (1 March 2015). "Polarization without Parties: Term Limits and Legislative Partisanship in Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature". State Politics & Policy Quarterly. 15 (1): 67–90. doi:10.1177/1532440014564984. ISSN 1532-4400. S2CID 156175167.
  20. ^ Masket, Seth E.; Lewis, Jeffrey B. (1 March 2007). "A Return to Normalcy? Revisiting the Effects of Term Limits on Competitiveness and Spending in California Assembly Elections". State Politics & Policy Quarterly. 7 (1): 20–38. doi:10.1177/153244000700700102. ISSN 1532-4400. S2CID 154582109.
  21. ^ Carroll, Susan J.; Jenkins, Krista (2001). "Do Term Limits Help Women Get Elected?". Social Science Quarterly. 82 (1): 197–201. doi:10.1111/0038-4941.00017. ISSN 1540-6237.
  22. ^ Carey, John M.; Niemi, Richard G.; Powell, Lynda W.; Moncrief, Gary F. (2006). "The Effects of Term Limits on State Legislatures: A New Survey of the 50 States". Legislative Studies Quarterly. 31 (1): 105–134. doi:10.3162/036298006X201742. ISSN 1939-9162.
  23. ^ VanDusky‐Allen, Julie (2014). "The Conditional Effect of Term Limits on Electoral Activities". Politics & Policy (in Spanish). 42 (3): 431–458. doi:10.1111/polp.12072. ISSN 1747-1346.
  24. ^ On the Evasion of Executive Term Limits 2010, University of Chicago Law School. Chicago Unbound
  25. ^ The Law and Politics of Presidential Term Limit Evasion Columbia Law Review, 2020

External links[edit]