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5.10.2009

Niger President joins those seeking to extend term

In Niger, President Mamadou Tandja has joined the ranks of world leaders seeking to amend national constitutions to do away with term limitations. The 70-year old Tandja, coming to the end of his second term, has initiated plans to hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment to do away with term limits.

As we have pointed out previously, term limits are not obviously required as a matter of democratic theory, and indeed, can be seen as somewhat problematic in that they limit the public from retaining a popular ruler. For whatever reason, there has been a recent wave of attempts to end term limits on executive office, perhaps because of the period of time that has passed since the third wave of democratization crested in the 1990s. Presidents who took power under constitutions with two-term limits will just now be forced out of office.

Scholarly analysis of debates over presidential re-election has been infrequent, but one recent contribution is by John Carey of Dartmouth, who has authored a book chapter entitled "The Reelection Debate in Latin America" in a forthcoming book called NewPerspectives on Democracy in Latin America: Actors, Institutions and Practices (William Smith, ed., Blackwell, 2009) Carey traces the history of reelction debates, noting that Simon Bolivar himself changed his views on them to become more accomodating of extended rule by a single individual. Carey focuses attention on the mode by which term limits are removed, distinguishing situations in which reforms are brought about by negotiations with the opposition from those in which reelection is brought about by plebiscite. Carey specutlates that the constraints on presidental authority are likely to be weaker under the latter system.

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