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A term of office, electoral term, or parliamentary term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election. Some jurisdictions exercise term limits, setting a maximum number of terms an individual may hold in a particular office.
House of Commons
In the United Kingdom Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons are elected for the duration of the parliament. Following dissolution of the Parliament, a general election is held which consists of simultaneous elections for all seats. For most MPs this means that their terms of office are identical to the duration of the Parliament. An individual's term may be cut short by death or resignation. An MP elected in a by-election mid-way through a Parliament, regardless of how long they have occupied the seat, is not exempt from facing re-election at the next general election.
The Septennial Act 1715 provided that a Parliament expired seven years after it had been summoned; this maximum period was reduced to five years by the Parliament Act 1911. Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 parliaments had no minimum duration. Parliaments could be dissolved early by the monarch at the prime minister's request. Early dissolutions occurred when the make-up of Parliament made forming government impossible (as occurred in 1974), or, more commonly, when the incumbent government reasoned an early general election would improve their re-election chances (e.g. 2001). The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 mandated that Parliaments should last their full five years; early dissolution remained possible but under much more limited circumstances. However, the act was repealed in 2022 and replaced with the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, which restored the pre-2011 constitutional situation.
Because the government and prime minister are effectively indirectly elected through the Commons, the terms of Parliaments and MPs do not directly apply to offices of government, though in practice these are affected by changes in Parliament. While, strictly speaking, a prime minister whose incumbency spans multiple Parliaments only serves one, unbroken, term of office, some writers may refer to the different Parliaments as separate terms.
House of Lords
Hereditary peers and life peers retain membership of the House of Lords for life, though members can resign or be expelled. Lords Spiritual hold membership of the House of Lords until the end of their time as bishops, though a senior bishop may be made a life peer upon the end of their bishopric (e.g. George Carey, made Baron Carey of Clifton the day after he ceased being Archbishop of Canterbury).
The office of the leader of the devolved administrations has no numeric term limit imposed upon it. However, in the case of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government there are fixed terms for which the legislatures can sit. This is imposed at five years. Elections may be held before this time but only if no administration can be formed, which has not happened yet.
Other elected offices
Offices of local government other regional elected officials follow similar rules to the national offices discussed above, with persons elected to fixed terms of a few years.
In the United States, the president of the United States is elected indirectly through the United States Electoral College to a four-year term, with a term limit of two terms (totaling eight years) or a maximum of ten years if the president acted as president for two years or less in a term where another was elected as president, imposed by the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951.
Federal judges have different terms in office. Article I judges; such as those that sit on the United States bankruptcy courts, United States Tax Court, and United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and certain other federal courts and other forms of adjudicative bodies serve limited terms: The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for 15 years, bankruptcy courts for 14. However, the majority of the federal judiciary, Article III judges (such as those of the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and federal district courts), serve for life.
State and territories
- 44 states had terms of office for the lower house of the state legislature (often termed the state House of Representatives) at two years. Five (Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Dakota) had terms of office at four years. (The Nebraska Legislature is an exception and has a unicameral legislature with members elected for four years.)
- 37 states had terms of office for the upper house of the state legislature (often termed the state Senate) at four years. Twelve (Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont) had terms of office at two years.
- In the American Samoa Fono, members of the House serve two-year terms while members of the Senate serve six-year terms.
- Members of both chambers of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico have four-year terms.
- Members of both chambers of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature have two-year terms.
- The Legislature of Guam and Legislature of the Virgin Islands are unicameral and Senators have two-year terms.
Members of Council of the District of Columbia serve a four-year term.
As a former British territory following the Westminster System, there are many similarities with the United Kingdom, although with some variations based on local customs, the federal system of government and the absentee monarch.
The governor general is appointed by the monarch as his/her personal representative on the advice of the prime minister, and serves for an indefinite term, though the normal convention is 5 years. Similarly, the lieutenant governors, who represent the monarch at the provincial level, are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister (usually also with consultation of the relevant provincial premier), and generally also serve 5 year terms by convention. The territories have commissioners, who are not representatives of the monarch, but are instead appointed by and represent the governor-in-council (i.e. the federal cabinet), and conventionally serve for about 5 years.
House of Commons
Similar to the United Kingdom, MPs serve for the duration of the Parliament. They may resign before the end of a Parliament or be elected in by-elections during the middle of a Parliament.
Under the Constitution Act, 1867, a Parliament may last for a maximum of 5 years from the most recent election before expiring, although all Parliaments to date have been dissolved before they could expire. Bill C-16, introduced in the 39th Parliament, provided for fixed election dates every 4 years on the third Monday in October, beginning in 2009. However, the Prime Minister may still advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at any time.
As in the United Kingdom, the cabinet and head of government are indirectly elected based on the composition of the House of Commons, they are not technically affected by the terms of legislators or Parliaments. In practice however, the terms of government office holders are affected by changes in the House of Commons, and those who serve for multiple consecutive Parliaments are generally considered to have served a single term. The term of a government generally ends when it is defeated on a confidence matter or the governing party fails to gain enough seats in a general election.
Senators are appointed to the Canadian Senate to represent a province, territory, or group of provinces, by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister, and serve until the mandatory retirement age of 75. Senators appointed before the passage of the British North America Act, 1965 served for life. Senators may also resign from office or be expelled from the Senate.
Provincial and Territorial Legislatures
Provincial legislatures and the legislature of the Yukon function very similarly to the federal House of Commons. MLAs (called MPPs in Ontario, MNAs in Quebec, and MHAs in Newfoundland and Labrador) serve for the duration of the legislature, though they may resign before the legislature is dissolved or be elected in by-elections between general elections. The legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut operate using a consensus model, but are similar otherwise. The premiers and their cabinets are selected in the same way as in the House of Commons, and like at the federal level, the term of a provincial government can be ended by defeat in a general election or the loss of the legislature's confidence.
All provincial legislatures except that of Nova Scotia have fixed-term election legislation in place, as does the legislature of the Northwest Territories. Premiers may also advise Lieutenant Governors to dissolve legislatures at any time before the prescribed election date.
In the Netherlands the position of Minister-President (Prime Minister) is limited to four years (counted from the moment the government is officially formed) although it can be repeated indefinitely after subsequent elections. It is common for the heads of governments in the Netherlands to take up the mantle multiple times, although it's neither expected or required to do so, more often a consequence of governments breaking up internally before their official four years are over and reforming with other parties. This is how the Netherlands ended up with consequent cabinets by: 4x Willem Drees (Drees-Van Schaik I '48, Drees I '51, Drees II '52 - Drees III '56) 3x Dries van Agt (Van Agt I '77, Van Agt II '81, Van Agt III '82) 4x Jan Peter Balkenende (Balkenende I '02, Balkenende II '03, Balkenende III '06, Balkenende IV '07) 4x Mark Rutte (Rutte I '10, Rutte II '12, Rutte III '17, Rutte IV '22).
Between 1982 and 2018, the Constitution of China stipulated that the president, vice president, premier, vice premiers could not serve more than two consecutive terms. In March 2018, China's party-controlled National People's Congress passed a set of constitutional amendments including removal of term limits for the president and vice president, as well as enhancing the central role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). On 17 March 2018, the Chinese legislature reappointed Xi as president, now without term limits; Wang Qishan was appointed vice president. The following day, Li Keqiang was reappointed premier and longtime allies of Xi, Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia, were voted in as vice-chairmen of the state military commission. Foreign minister Wang Yi was promoted to state councillor and General Wei Fenghe was named defence minister.
According to the Financial Times, Xi expressed his views of constitutional amendment at meetings with Chinese officials and foreign dignitaries. Xi explained the decision in terms of needing to align two more powerful posts—General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC)—which have no term limits. However, Xi did not say whether he intended to serve as party general secretary, CMC chairman and state president, for three or more terms.
Terms of office by country
|Heads of state|
|Not applicable||Unclear||Varies||Until removed|
Numbers in years unless stated otherwise. Some countries where fixed-term elections are uncommon, the legislature is almost always dissolved earlier than its expiry date. "Until removed from office" refers to offices that do not have fixed terms; in these cases, the officeholder(s) may serve indefinitely until death, abdication, resignation, retirement, or forcible removal from office (such as impeachment).
In most cases where the head of government is a different person from the head of state, its term of office is identical to the chamber that elected it (the legislature if it is unicameral, or most usually the lower house if it is bicameral), unless it does not survive a vote of no confidence.
|Country||Head of state||Members of the upper house[a]||Members of the lower house|
|Afghanistan||Until removed from office||—||—|
|Andorra||Until removed from office (Bishop of Urgel) 5 (President of France)
|Antigua and Barbuda||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Australia||Until removed from office||6||3|
|Austria||6||4 to 6||5|
|Bahamas||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Bahrain||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Belgium||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Belize||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Bhutan||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||4[b]||4||4|
|Brunei||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Cambodia||Until removed from office||6||5|
|Canada||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||4|
|Central African Republic||5||—||5|
|Republic of China||4||—||4|
|Denmark||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Eritrea||Until removed from office||—||Until removed from office|
|Germany||5||4 to 5||4|
|Grenada||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Iran||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Jamaica||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Japan||Until removed from office||6||4|
|Jordan||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Kuwait||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Libya||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||Until removed from office|
|Lesotho||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Liechtenstein||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Luxembourg||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Monaco||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Morocco||Until removed from office||6||5|
|Netherlands||Until removed from office||4||4|
|New Zealand||Until removed from office||—||3|
|Norway||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Oman||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Papua New Guinea||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Qatar||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Saint Lucia||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Until removed from office||—||5|
|San Marino||0.5 (6 months)||—||5|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||5||—||4|
|Saudi Arabia||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Solomon Islands||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Spain||Until removed from office||4||4|
|Sudan||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||Until removed from office|
|Eswatini||Until removed from office||5||5|
|Sweden||Until removed from office||—||4|
|Thailand||Until removed from office||5||4|
|Tonga||Until removed from office||—||5|
|Trinidad and Tobago||5||5||5|
|Tuvalu||Until removed from office||—||4|
|United Arab Emirates||5||—||4|
|United Kingdom||Until removed from office||Until removed from office||5|
|Vatican City||Until removed from office||—||5|
- Alexander Baturo and Robert Elgie (eds.). 2019. The Politics of Presidential Term Limits. Oxford University Press.
- Excludes senators for life.
- The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of three members as a collective head of state, all elected at the same time via popular vote, by different constituencies each, every four years.
- In Italy the prorogatio, unlike the real extension of the term, does not affect the duration of the electoral mandate, but only concerns the exercise of the powers in the interval between the deadline, natural or anticipated, of this mandate, and the entry into office of the new elected body.
- The Federal Council of Switzerland is composed of seven members as a collective head of state, all elected at the same time by the Federal Assembly of Switzerland every four years.
- "Margaret Thatcher". Biography.com. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
During her three terms…
- "Number of Legislators, Terms of Office, Next Election". Webarchive.loc.gov. Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2022-03-08.
- Shi, Jiangtao; Huang, Kristin (26 February 2018). "End to term limits at top 'may be start of global backlash for China'". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 27 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- Phillips, Tom (4 March 2018). "Xi Jinping's power play: from president to China's new dictator?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- Wen, Philip (17 March 2018). "China's parliament re-elects Xi Jinping as president". Reuters. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Bodeen, Christopher (17 March 2018). "Xi reappointed as China's president with no term limits". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Zhou, Xin (18 March 2018). "Li Keqiang endorsed as China's premier; military leaders confirmed". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 27 August 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
- Ng, Teddy (19 March 2018). "China's foreign minister gains power in new post as state councillor". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 5 March 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
- Mitchell, Tom (7 September 2019). "China's Xi Jinping says he is opposed to life-long rule". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
President insists term extension is necessary to align government and party posts
- "Constitution of Armenia - Library - the President of Armenia". Archived from the original on 2016-09-19. Retrieved 2022-04-10.
- http://www.laltdh.org/pdf/constution_tchad.pdf Archived 2021-04-10 at the Wayback Machine[bare URL PDF]
- "CONSTITUTION DE LA REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 3, 2021.
- Buonomo, Giampiero (2003). "Norme regionali annullate, ma sulla "prorogatio" del Consiglio passa il federalismo". Diritto&Giustizia Edizione Online. Archived from the original on 2012-08-01. Retrieved 2016-04-03.
- Jean-Pierre Maury. "Madagascar, Constitution de la IVe République 2010, Digithèque MJP". Mjp.univ-perp.fr. Archived from the original on 2021-11-28. Retrieved 2022-03-08.
- "South Sudan 2011 (rev. 2013)". Constitute Project. Archived from the original on 5 September 2022. Retrieved 5 September 2022.
IPU Parline database on national parliaments