Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Term Limits

George Washington, the father of the country, established a basic convention in the United Sates that a President serve a maximum of two terms. After two and a half centuries, Franklin Roosevelt broke this convention by serving a third term (1941-1945) and then starting a fourth term. He was able to achieve this because the Second World War created an abnormal political atmosphere. Afterwards however, American legislators reacted against autocracy and carried an amendment to the constitution prohibiting more than two terms. This came into force in 1951.

During the rest of the Twentieth Century, over half the countries in the world copied this limit, but some presidents fought back and controversially managed to remove the restriction so they could remain in power (the two Congos, Russia, Rwanda and Uganda). By contrast, in 2015 both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Mayor of Greater London stated they would serve only twice. In other words indefinite autocracy is becoming unacceptable worldwide.

There is nonetheless, a defect in a two term limit, it results in the president avoiding difficult decisions during the first term so as not to jeopardise re-election. Meaningful reforms are thus postponed until and unless the president secures another term. This paralysis is avoided in the few countries which have a single term limit ie China (ten years) and Mexico (a sexenio ie 6 years). That appears to be the most efficient way for a republic to avoid quasi-monarchy.

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