Desiree Geib/the Gauntlet

Mind Fight: Are presidential term limits a good idea?

Publication YearIssue Date 


Just over a year after saying no to amending their constitution, Venezuelans are once again being asked to vote. While the 2007 constitutional referendum had its sights on a total of 69 articles concerning a myriad of issues ranging from progressive socialist reforms, to what critics of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez would cite as a consolidation of power, this upcoming referendum will focus on one central issue: the abolition of term limits for the president and other elected officials. Most presidential republics in the world, where the president is both head of state and government, have term limits for good reason, they function as another check and balance in a system which already tends to concentrate power in the hands of one person. Their removal has no place in a governance purporting itself to be democratic.

Chavez denies the move is a means of installing himself as president for life. Indeed, all that's being called for is an abolition of term limits. Elections would still occur every six years, with a chance for a recall halfway through. Chavez insists that his brand of socialist reforms-- what he calls his Bolivarian Revolution-- requires him to spend at least another term in office in order to be fully realized. However, in a truly democratic society, such reasons should not even come to play. True democracy, where everyone is equal and has fair chance, can have any successor take the helm, provided of course that they have the same credentials and are as competent and as well versed in the party's programs, platforms and guiding principles. Any self-anointed proclamation of being the one and only leader who can preside over such matters is suggestive of autocracy.

It cannot be denied that the charismatic Chavez has built up an immense following akin to a cult of personality. His ideology and vision, termed Chavismo, would have gained little ground without his unique flair for motivating crowds and attracting the masses. The popularity of his reforms relies heavily on his own immense popularity. And therein lies the risk: the progressive socialist changes that have occurred in Venezuela since the former paratrooper stepped into office are in danger of having no strong foundation to ground itself aside from his own influence and authority. Once Chavez goes, so could all of the reforms that he has so far managed to enact. World history certainly has no shortage of examples of failed statewide reforms, even failed states, which crumbled as soon as the strongmen who championed the cause either passed on or fell out of the public's favour.

To let Chavez run for office for as long as he is able certainly would be in favour of maintaining the momentum of his brand of revolution-- provided he keeps on winning. With that, the fundamental issue then arises: instead of investing in the long-term future of his cause, Chavez could very well be fixated on re-election bids. Measures and programs that could impact society far better in the long run could be traded for those that would provide an instantaneous increase in public polls. This certainly is one pitfall of presidential democracies, which the concept of term limits seeks to avoid.


Long-time Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has recently succeeded in passing an amendment in the country's National Assembly that would eliminate presidential term limits. The amendment has to be approved by a national referendum within 30 days to actually take effect which is indicative of the proper democratic process. The amendment also includes all elected officials and would allow them, not to serve indefinitely, but to be constantly eligible for re-election. Evidently, this would allow Chavez to run for re-election as many times as he wants.

Venezuela is not the only country taking this path of constitutional reform. The Russian parliament is attempting almost the exact same thing with their presidential term limits. It is important to remember that these amendments would not allow the heads of state to remain in power without democratic checks and balances. All regular elections would still take place and the only difference would be that there would be no limits as to how many times a candidate could run. And why should there be limits? If a particular head of state, say a president of a democratic nation, is doing an excellent job leading his or her country, why should he or she be limited to a set number of terms?

It is difficult to think of other institutions that employ these same standards. Do CEOs of corporations have limited terms? Would it even make sense to have them? If a CEO is doing a spectacular job by making tons of money for their shareholders they should be allowed to extend their terms for as long as they are able to perform at that level.

A policy such as fixed terms is intrusive and too Big-Brotherish. Western nations make use of them to ensure that no one individual or administration gains too much influence or is given an advantage of any sort. It's like some kind of institutionalized communism. We don't need a state that actively interferes with the election of our leaders. Our votes alone should be responsible for that task.

Real democracies punish poor and irresponsible leaders by ousting them from power with their votes. Yet many democracies, like the U.S., also systematically ensure that good and responsible leaders are only allowed a maximum of two terms in office. Could you imagine outgoing President George W. Bush announcing that he would like to run for a third term as president? For some reason, it seems unlikely that he would be re-elected, but we shouldn't rob him of the right to try. The people's votes would speak for themselves and the most desirable candidate would win.

In any country, a policy that allows heads of government to run for office as many times as they wish would result in a more stable government by allowing popular and effective leaders to remain in power for a longer period of time. Therefore, allowing government leaders to run until they are voted out is a good policy.