Constitutional control of power by term limits

1. What is the aim of term limits?

Term limits are aimed at restricting the duration of time that a person, group or party holds office or retains power so as to reduce the risks of that person or group having a monopoly on power and therefore the temptation to abuse it.

2. How do term limits work in relation to a particular person?

In some constitutions a person cannot hold office for more than a limited time or prescribed number of terms as in the United States where a president can only hold the office for a maximum of two consecutive terms.

3. How do term limits work in relation to a Parliament or Government as a whole?

Term limits are usually fixed for Parliament by limiting the duration of the holding of office to the period between elections. In Jamaica, a person elected to the House of Representatives, or appointed as a senator, holds that office until the next general election.

4. Must general election be held by a specified date?

The Constitution fixes the life of each Parliament at a maximum of five years and on the expiration of that period the Parliament is immediately dissolved. However, the governor general may, at any time before that date, dissolve the Parliament if so advised by the prime minister, thus making the duration of the term flexible and uncertain.

5. Should there be a more definite duration for the life of Parliament?

There are strong arguments in favour of fixed terms. They remove uncertainties in government, eliminate the manipulation of the electoral system for partisan advantages and give unfair advantage to the persons currently in power.

6. Are there provisions for extension of the life of Parliament beyond its normal maximum term?

Yes, at present the life of Parliament may be extended for up to 12 months at a time and a maximum of two years if Jamaica is at war. Parliament may also be recalled between its dissolution and the next general election if there is an ongoing crisis of such a nature that the prime minister considers it necessary.

7. Should the provisions/powers for extension of the life of Parliament be expanded?

It is quite possible that a calamity such as a pestilence or earthquake could occur and cause such devastation or disruption that it would be impractical for a general election to be held in such a way as to provide each voter with a fair opportunity to vote and therefore additional provisions should be made for postponing the election in those circumstances.

8. Should term limits be imposed on individuals?

In some countries, terms limits are imposed on the holders of specified offices. Although in the USA a president can serve no more than two terms, members of Congress can serve an unlimited number of terms. In the Commonwealth, term limits are not usually imposed for executive heads of government and legislators. One reason for this is that it is regarded as a matter for the people’s choice and therefore if any of their representative ceases to perform or is guilty of misconduct, they have the means of voting him or her out at the next election, and if he or she is performing satisfactorily to vote for his or her re-election.


Should the life of Parliament be fixed for a specific duration, so that it cannot be altered without a special majority?

The information for the Jamaica Observer’s Road to Republic Questions and Answers is provided by Citizens Action for Free and Fair Election (CAFFE).

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