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A term limit is a legal restriction that limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. Term limits are found usually in presidential and semi-presidential systems as a method to curb the potential for dictatorships, where a leader effectively becomes "president for life". There are different types of term limits. Sometimes, there is an absolute limit on the number of terms a person can serve, while, in other cases, the restrictions are merely on the number of consecutive terms a person can serve.


Use of term limits

Ancient history

Term limits have a long history. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, two early civilizations which had elected offices, both imposed limits on some positions. In ancient Athenian democracy, no citizen could serve on the council of 500, or boule, for two consecutive annual terms, nor for more than two terms in his lifetime, nor be head of the boule more than once. In the Roman Republic, a law was passed imposing a limit of a single term on the office of censor. The annual magistrates—tribune of the plebs, aedile, quaestor, praetor, and consul—were forbidden reelection until a number of years had passed.[1] (see cursus honorum, Constitution of the Roman Republic).

Modern history

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, members of CongressRepresentatives 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.[2] (See also term limits in the United States).

The Russian Federation has a common rule for head of state which allows the President of Russia to serve more than two terms if they're not consecutive. For governors of federal subjects, the same two-term limit existed in the 1990s, but since 2004 there have been 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 which 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. 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, on the other hand, 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.

Offices of local government, such as a mayoralty, may also have term limits. Examples include Philadelphia, PA, New York City and Los Angeles, California.

See also


  1. ^ Robert Struble, Jr., Treatise on Twelve Lights, chapter six, part II, "Rotation in History."
  2. ^ 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.

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