A Term Limit for The Prime Minister

Sir Lawrence A Joseph

By Dr Lawrence A Joseph

One of the issues which is being raised by some, for inclusion in an amended constitution in Grenada is that of having a specified term limit for the holder of the position of Prime Minister.

It is being recommended that a Prime Minister should not be allowed to hold that position for more than two parliamentary terms. This is the same principle which is being adopted by many countries such as Guyana and the United States of America (USA). In Guyana a parliamentary term is five years and in the USA it is four years.

In the United States the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which was ratified by all states on 27 February 1951 provides partially: “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice…” Before that ratification was accomplished, the only President who was elected more than twice was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944.

In Russia there is a modified form of term limit on the presidency. There, the constitution puts a limit on the number of successive terms being no more than two consecutive terms. This is why President Vladimir Putin was able to be elected again as President after there was a break following his first two successive terms between 2000 and 2008. During those times the parliamentary term was four years, but now it is six years.

Quite a number of other countries are not restricted by term limits for the presidency or the prime-ministership. These include the United Kingdom, Canada and Grenada. In Grenada the constitution provides that a parliament may continue for up to five years. It may be dissolved at any time before the five-year period elapses. In other words there is no fixed time frame for the holding of general elections. General Elections must be held within three months after the dissolution of parliament and the Prime Minister is selected by the Governor General subsequently. Before selecting the Prime Minister, the Governor General has to be satisfied that the Prime Minister is able to command support from the majority of parliamentarians in the House of Representatives.

It is claimed that one of the advantages of having a term limit for the holding of the position of Prime Minister is that in such a situation, no Prime Minister may appear to own the country as his or her own personal estate . It is felt that there should be opportunities for other persons to lead. Whilst there may be some merit with regard to this concern as experiences all over the Caribbean have indicated, the downside of this concern is that term limits seems to restrict the will of voters.

Moreover in small states such as Grenada, St Kitts and St Vincent where Prime Ministers have been elected for more than two parliamentary terms, the availability of dynamic leaders seems to be quite limited. Whilst the principle of having term limits may be quite applicable in large countries where there is always a wider pool of leaders, even in such situations, there may be outstanding leaders who may make significant contributions to the nation by leading for more than two terms. It is felt by some that when there is a dynamic leader in place, that leader ought to be given the opportunity to continue with positive programmes for the country

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States is a case in point. He is rated by many as being among the top three American Presidents which number includes Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. During the twelve years that he was president coming from the Democratic Party, Roosevelt dominated the political circles in America and for decades after his fourth election as President of the United States, his policies and ideas continued to have significant impacts.

There seems to be no cut and dried approach for supporting or not supporting the principle of having a term limit for the prime-ministership in Grenada. However, careful thought must be given to this principle before it is adopted. Change must not be made just for the sake of change. Any suggested amendment to the Constitution must be carefully worked through. If at all a term limit for the prime-ministership is to be adopted, it may be advisable to also give consideration to having in the amended constitution, a fixed date for the holding of General Elections. With this combination an incumbent Prime Minister will not be burdened with the thought of shortening his or her two terms in office to his or her disadvantage if elections are called before the five-year period is due.

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