Presidential Term Limits and the International Community

Institute of Development Policy, Working Paper 2018.9

30 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2018

See all articles by Christina Murray

Christina Murray

University of Cape Town

Eric Alston

Finance Division, University of Colorado Boulder

Micha Wiebusch

University of Antwerp - Institute of Development Policy and Management; United Nations - UNU-CRIS; University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Date Written: September 24, 2018

Abstract

Proposed changes to presidential term limits are almost always highly contested, and have attracted international and regional attention from many external actors including governmental organizations (IGOs), and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). A central question that faces these external actors is the extent to which it is legitimate to take a position in presidential term limit debates. When they have engaged the question, external actors have increasingly focused on the relationship between stability, conflict prevention, constitutionalism and democracy. This chapter considers the policy concerning presidential term limits of three major IGOs, the UN, the AU and the OAS, each of which has had considerable involvement in countries where term limit changes have been linked to conflict. It further discusses the way in which IDEA, an IGO with a softer mandate, has responded to the debate on term limits, as well as the output of a number of other international actors like the Venice Commission, ECOWAS, DRI, the Carter Center and the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF). This review of international actors’ responses to the question of presidential term limits suggests an increasing international consensus that, in countries with a history of authoritarianism and weak democratic institutions, presidential term limits can play an important role in strengthening democratic processes and reducing the likelihood of conflict. Importantly, justifications for raising concerns about the removal of term limits are gradually moving from the safer space of demanding that constitutionally established processes be used to more outspoken condemnation of proposals to remove or weaken term limits based on a recognition of the dangers of prolonged incumbency and its links to democratic backsliding.

Keywords: Presidential term limits; United Nations; African Union; Organization of American States; Venice Commission; NGO; International IDEA; international institutions, constitutions, constitution making

Suggested Citation

Murray, Christina and Alston, Eric and Wiebusch, Micha, Presidential Term Limits and the International Community (September 24, 2018). Institute of Development Policy, Working Paper 2018.9, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3254364 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3254364

Christina Murray

University of Cape Town ( email )

3rd Floor, leslie Commerce Building
Engineering Mall, Upper Campus
Cape Town, Western Cape 8000
South Africa

Eric Alston

Finance Division, University of Colorado Boulder ( email )

Campus Box 419
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Micha Wiebusch (Contact Author)

University of Antwerp - Institute of Development Policy and Management ( email )

City campus building S
Lange Sint Annastraat 7
Antwerp, 2000
Belgium

United Nations - UNU-CRIS ( email )

Potterierei 72
Brugge, 8000
Belgium

University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) ( email )

Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square: College Buildings 541
London, WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

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