Term of office
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A term of office is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election. Some jurisdictions exercise term limits, setting a maximum number of terms an individual may hold in a particular office.
House of Commons
In the United Kingdom Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons are elected for the duration of the parliament. Following dissolution of the Parliament, a general election is held which consists of simultaneous elections for all seats. For most MPs this means that their terms of office are identical to the duration of the Parliament, though an individual's term may be cut short by death or resignation. An MP elected in a by-election mid-way through a Parliament, regardless of how long they have occupied the seat, is not exempt from facing re-election at the next general election.
The Septennial Act 1715 provided that a Parliament expired seven years after it had been summoned; this maximum period was reduced to five years by the Parliament Act 1911. Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 parliaments had no minimum duration. Parliaments could be dissolved early by the monarch at the Prime Ministers request. Early dissolutions occurred when the make-up of Parliament made forming government impossible (as occurred in 1974), or, more commonly, when the incumbent government reasoned an early general election would improve their re-election chances (e.g. 2001). The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 mandated that Parliaments should last their full five years. Early dissolution is still possible, but under much more limited circumstances.
Because the government and Prime Minister are effectively indirectly elected through the Commons, the terms of Parliaments and MPs do not directly apply to offices of government, though in practice these are affected by changes in Parliament. While, strictly speaking, a Prime Minister whose incumbency spans multiple Parliaments only serves one, unbroken, term of office, some writers may refer to the different Parliaments as separate terms.
House of Lords
Hereditary peers and life peers retain membership of the House of Lords for life, though members can resign or be expelled. Lords Spiritual hold membership of the House of Lords until the end of their time as bishops, though a senior bishop may be made a life peer upon the end of their bishopric (e.g. George Carey, made Baron Carey of Clifton the day after he ceased being Archbishop of Canterbury).
The office of the leader of the devolved administrations has no numeric term limit imposed upon it. However, in the case of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government there are fixed terms for which the legislatures can sit. This is imposed at four years. Elections may be held before this time but only if no administration can be formed, which has not happened yet.
Other elected offices
Offices of local government other regional elected officials follow similar rules to the national offices discussed above, with persons elected to fixed terms of a few years.
In the United States, the president of the United States is elected indirectly through the United States Electoral College to a four-year term, with a term limit of two terms (totaling eight years) or a maximum of ten years if the president acted as president for two years or less in a term where another was elected as president, imposed by the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951.
Federal judges have different terms in office. Article I judges—such as those that sit on the United States bankruptcy courts, United States Tax Court, and United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and certain other federal courts and other forms of adjudicative bodies serve limited terms: The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for 15 years, bankruptcy courts for 14. However, the majority of the federal judiciary—Article III judges, such as those of the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and federal district courts—serve for life.
State and territories
- 44 states had terms of office for the lower house of the state legislature (often termed the state House of Representatives) at two years. Five (Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Dakota) had terms of office at four years. (The Nebraska Legislature is an exception and has a unicameral legislature with members elected for four years.)
- 37 states had terms of office for the upper house of the state legislature (often termed the state Senate) at four years. Twelve (Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont) had terms of office at two years.
- In the American Samoa Fono, members of the House serve two-year terms while members of the Senate serve six-year terms.
- Members of both chambers of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico have four-year terms.
- Members of both chambers of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature have two-year terms.
- The Legislature of Guam and Legislature of the Virgin Islands are unicameral and Senators have two-year terms.
Members of Council of the District of Columbia serves a four-year term.
Currently, as in any other elected public office holder position in Canada, there is no limit on the number of times a Prime Minister can run for office. There is a recent article in the Hill Times advocating term limits for such positions, including the PM one.
Terms of office by country
|Heads of state or Heads of Government|
|Not applicable||Varies||Until removed|
Numbers in years unless stated otherwise. Note that some countries where fixed-term elections are uncommon, the legislature is almost always dissolved earlier than its expiry date. "Until removed from office" refers to offices that don't have fixed terms; in these cases, the officeholder(s) may serve indefinitely until death, abdication, resignation, retirement, or forcible removal from office (such as impeachment).
|Country||Head(s) of state||Members of the upper house*||Members of the lower (or sole) house|
|Afghanistan||5||3, 4 and 5||5|
|Andorra||Until removed from office (Bishop of Urgel); 5 (President of France)||N/A||4|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Australia||Until removed from office||6||3|
|Austria||6||4 to 6||5|
|Bahamas||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Bahrain||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Barbados||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Belgium||Until removed from office||5||4|
|Bhutan||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||4||4||4|
|Brunei||Until removed from office||N/A||Until removed from office|
|Cambodia||Until removed from office||6||5|
|Canada||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||5|
|Central African Republic||6||N/A||5|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||5||5||4|
|Denmark||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Germany||5||4 to 5||4|
|Grenada||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Iran||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Jamaica||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Japan||Until removed from office||6||4|
|Jordan||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Kuwait||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Lesotho||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Liechtenstein||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Luxembourg||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|F.S. Micronesia||4||N/A||2, 4|
|Monaco||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Morocco||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Nepal||5||N/A||Until removed from office|
|Netherlands||Until removed from office||4||4|
|New Zealand||Until removed from office||N/A||3|
|Norway||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Oman||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Papua New Guinea||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Qatar||Until removed from office||N/A||N/A|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Saint Lucia||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Samoa||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|San Marino||0.5 (6 months)||N/A||5|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||5||N/A||4|
|Solomon Islands||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Somalia||In transition||N/A||In transition|
|Spain||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Swaziland||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Sweden||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|Thailand||Until removed from office||6||4|
|Tonga||Until removed from office||N/A||5|
|Trinidad and Tobago||5||5||5|
|Tuvalu||Until removed from office||N/A||4|
|United Arab Emirates||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||5|
|United Kingdom||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||5|
|Vatican City||Until removed from office||N/A||Until removed from office|
*Excludes senators for life.