Country: United States (New York)
Comparative Political Institutions
Presidential Term Limits
Non-state Justice Systems
Informal Justice Systmes
Rule Of Law
During the transitions to multipartyism that began in the late 1980s, presidential term limits were adopted into the constitutions of a majority of sub-Saharan African states. Yet, a sizable minority of African governments resisted implementing such restrictions on executive power. How can this variation be explained? This article proposes an expanded strategic choice approach that posits that the degree of electoral uncertainty affects institutional choice in cases of controlled, unilateral constitutional revisions (which were common across Africa) just as much as it shapes institutional choice in situations of cooperative constitution-making through bargaining and pact-making. Based on this logic, I argue that term limits were adopted as an electoral insurance mechanism in all cases where constitutional drafters perceive the degree of future electoral uncertainty to be high, regardless of whether the constitutional review process is cooperative or controlled. Alternatively, term limits are eschewed in cases where one unified party fully controls the constitutional review process and also perceives that they will win elections into the foreseeable future. The argument is tested through a statistical analysis of the determinants of term limit choice across all relevant sub-Saharan cases.
Since presidential term limits were (re)adopted into many constitutions during the third wave of democratization, 207 presidents across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have reached the end of their terms in office. Of these, 30% have attempted to contravene term limits whereas 70% have stepped down in compliance with tenure rules. Furthermore, of the presidents who have attempted to alter tenure restrictions, some have succeeded in fully abolishing term limits, others have only managed a one-term extension, while a minority have failed in their bids to secure any additional terms in office. What explains these divergent trajectories? On the basis of a series of statistical analyses, I argue that trends in electoral competition over time are the best predictor of the range of term limit contravention outcomes across the board, with the least competitive elections permitting full term limit abolition and the most competitive elections saving off attempts at altering executive tenure rules. Furthermore, results show that failed contravention attempts are true borderline cases, rather than instances gross miscalculations of success by the president and her party, in that they feature less competitive elections than non-attempt cases but more competitive elections than successful contravention cases. These findings suggest a linkage between political uncertainty and constitutional stability more generally.