Why Not Limit Terms for Elected Offices?

Ancient Greeks established the democratic foundations of much of the way our world governs, one of which was placing a limitation on the number of terms that an elected official could serve in office. Similarly, the Romans adopted term limits by not allowing any one person to hold a position of power for an indefinite period of time. This democratic concept of power-sharing amongst its citizens was established for the greater good.  

Following the ancient practice of term limits, the United States had introduced into its Constitution a law that states that "no person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice," which means an elected President can occupy the highest office in the country only for a total of eight years. There are two reasons for this: First, limiting power held by one leader for a long time is what makes the citizenry possible to actually rule. As such, there is no royalty, no dictatorship and no military rule in the United States. Second, the job of the highest office is understandably very demanding and thus takes a heavy toll on the mental and physical well-being of any President. As a result, stagnancy of ideas and physical exhaustion often occur, causing the leader to be less effective and less energetic even within a few years in office.  

To be sure, not everyone favors limiting terms of office. For example, most politicians in India would seem to believe that they should rule and reign for as long as possible. The Nehru’s family is a classic case in point, because they’ve turned the Indian political system into a dynastic rule. Even now, after the third generation, Mr. Rahul Gandhi is still projecting himself as if he’s entitled to rule over the Indian masses. Perhaps, we can say that both S.C. Jamir and Neiphiu Rio are no different either, because they too have always wanted the highest office in Nagaland to be theirs and theirs alone for as long as possible.  

Public office was to be a public service, not a means for self-enrichment. But nowadays many elected officials use their public office for selfish purposes and turn politics into a career for self-enrichment. Over time, their goal becomes simply to get reelected and to prepare themselves for the next election campaign rather than to do the right thing for the people. In going after self-interests, they develop themselves into an elitist class and grow to be more isolated from the lives and concerns of the average citizens. Also, as time goes on, these career politicians develop cozy deals with either bureaucracies or special interests that seek to get something from the government at the expense of everyone else.  

In some places, the same corrupt politicians may continue to enjoy getting reelected for some decades altogether. This may not be as a result of the some wonderful services they have provided for the public, but because they have the financing, name recognition and influence to continue to get reelected. In such a situation, no new candidate may dare to come forward to run against such an incumbent. And here the real losers are the voters, because they have no choice but to keep the same failed politician to be their representative year after year. As such, allowing a person an unlimited period of time to serve in a position is detrimental to the public good.  

Term limits in elected offices are a good thing. They ensure that elected officials focus more on the public welfare than on their own political careers. When elected officials know that they will again return to the citizenship without the title or power after a limited number of years, they are likely to be more committed in giving their best for the public. There’s something very noble about serving others for the sake of serving as opposed to doing a job in order to keep the job. This is what term limits help to do.  

Term limits means that after a period of time, the playing field will once again be leveled and new seats will be open without incumbents. In advanced democracies, citizens want to ensure a regular supply of fresh blood and new ideas in legislative bodies; they want to open the system to more people from a variety of professions; they want to create opportunities for many talented leaders or younger people to try public service. But without term limits, many of these people will never run for a public office because of the challenges of running against the incumbents.  

Democracy works best when new people and new ideas are brought to the table. When someone stays in office for decades at a time, there is no chance for younger people to get involved in politics. The voice of younger people is important, as they have the most to lose from a system of government in the long term. That’s why some young people would sometimes complain, saying, “We do not feel some in their 60s and 70s should represent those in their 20s and 30s. The old leaders are like old computers running on an obsolete operating system.” Although this statement may be a bit extreme, there’s also an element of truth in it which older people would do well to note, instead of always saying, “The young people are our tomorrow’s leaders!” Otherwise, proper representation and fair opportunity of power-sharing will continue to suffer.  

In short, term limits are a good thing. They cut out chances for corruption, remove stagnancy, bring diverse perspectives, add new ideas, infuse fresh energy, and create more opportunities for the betterment of all in a society.