Who decides how long a political leader stays in office? How long is too long? One term? Two terms? Three terms? Who decides?

If you listen to public conversations and talk radio, you would have to conclude that the political leader himself or herself decides. Somehow, he or she has the power to determine the outcome of their own election. No matter what the people think, if he or she decides to stay for another term, they stay.

Wait a minute! I thought our system of democracy ensured that the winner of the contest is the one with the most votes (please, let’s ignore the wrinkle of constituency imbalances for this discussion). So if a candidate attracts the majority of the votes, he is the one who ends up sitting in office. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work in a democracy? How is it possible to anticipate that someone would lose an election but end up in office, just because they decided to stay? That is the fear that cries out for term limits. If that happens, we would all be screaming that our democracy had been violated.

Term limits assume that democracy does not in fact exist. If the majority of the voters determines that a candidate is unworthy, their responsibility is to vote them out of office. The only way an unworthy person remains in office is if he or she is placed there by the majority of the people, in which case they should remain in the seat, poor performance and all.

What term limits do is remove the responsibility of the citizens to act in accordance with their judgement. The right to vote comes with the responsibility to assess the performance of their representatives and to take responsibility for the outcome of the elections. We do not elect political leaders. We elect constituency representatives. As citizens, it is up to us to decide whether that is a system we wish to keep or to change. But limiting the number of terms an individual stays in office is nothing more than another way of avoiding the fact that democracy has a fundamental flaw, once pointed out by Stokely Carmichael, an American activist,

“The bitterest pill I have had to take is the fact that in a democracy, the majority can never be wrong”. Tuff stuff.

I am not swayed by the fact that other countries have term limits. I am more concerned that because other people may be confused, I should feel constrained to be confused too.

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