Tenure: Limits to Time in Office

People tend to see patriotism and loyalty as virtues, but there is a distinction between loyalty to the country and loyalty to the leader.  For stability, it is more important to be loyal to the institutions – such as the British monarchy (as a symbol of the whole country and its system of government), the American Constitution, or a one-party system – than to any one leader, political party or administration.

Leaders should be changed regularly; fixed limits to tenure are a safeguard against the tendencies of strong personalities to stay beyond the time when they best serve the country.  History would have judged Margaret Thatcher and Robert Mugabe more favourably if they had gracefully yielded power earlier (

In a democracy, a strong leader who is still popular can appeal to the people to remove a constitutional term limit – as was the case in a Venezuelan referendum where, as reported by the BBC, Chavez wins chance of fresh term.  The people’s approval then gives legitimacy to the extended term but, looking at the examples quoted above, it seems that eight years is the maximum advisable term for a leader – as is the constitutional limit in America.

Authoritarian leaders can also have term limits imposed upon them if they are appointed by a ‘selectocracy’ in a one-party system (   The LSE article, Making Autocracy Work, noted that  “Leadership turnover is greater in successful compared to unsuccessful autocracies” (p. 49).



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6343.htm