Expressing an opinion on the first part of this article, a commentator suggested that it would be much more helpful to examine the issue of term limits from a different angle that examines whether there is an opportunity for a better expression of the franchise of citizens. The Dominican patriot from a northern community that has failed to experience growth and development after 65 plus years of representation from members of the same family and political party, expressed a high degree of pessimism with the implementation of time limits and challenged the author to present a more cogent argument juxtaposing the longevity of service and a deterioration of moral fibre of leaders in power- which many, he argued, consider to be a basic and obvious fact. Indeed term limits are no guarantee of improving the democratic process, he contended, but it serves well to stop the growth of a political cancer and does bring to an end bad governance, thereby ushering a change of leadership either within the same political party or by another, which can prove to be an opportunity for a country to breathe fresh air, humble corrupt and egoist leaders and allow the country an opportunity to grow.
In the United States, the President is limited to serving two terms in office owing to the 22nd Constitutional Amendment. Only one President -Franklin D. Roosevelt has served more than two terms and unless another Amendment is passed by Congress and ratified, he shall be the only US President to do so, a fact just as President Donald Trump has no more than a single term in office. However, like all politicians in the Caribbean, term limits do not apply to other politicians elected to Congress and the Senate in the United States. These politicians serve for as long as they wish, assuming that they continue to be elected after every term of service. Some politicians have served more than 50 consecutive years in office in active democracies where free and fair elections are held.
In the first part of this article, we highlighted the progressive initiative of the last St. Kitts and Nevis government to introduce the “Tenure of Office of Prime Minister Bill, 2015” to Parliament. However, when the Bill came up for second reading in the parliament on Friday, 20 September 2019, the leader of government business in parliament informed parliament that the Prime Minister was unavailable and no one on the government side was duly authorized, to move the second reading of the Bill and to commence debate thereon. It was therefore proposed by the government that the Bill be removed from the Order Paper and it would come up for debate at a future sitting.
According to the Leader of Opposition, Former Prime Minister Douglas, “knowing that he lacked the constitutionally-required two-thirds of all the elected members in the St Kitts and Nevis National Assembly to set a two-term limit for Prime Ministers, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, who initially introduced the Bill was a no show when the time came for the second reading” Having won the June 05, 2020 general elections by a landslide 9-2 margin, the entire region awaits to judge the sincerity of the Team Unity government of Prime Minister Timothy of St. Kitts and Nevis on the issue of setting a term limit on the tenure of a Prime Minister..
The only signal to date that the government intends to pursue that matter was a statement made by the Prime Minister outside of parliament while addressing a “Praise and Thanksgiving service” of one of the coalition member parties, the People’s Action Movement’s (PAM). PM Harris stated that he has long maintained his commitment to serving just two terms as the third Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and he is ready to support his deputy, the leader of his main coalition partner when that time comes. He promised to bring all of his experience and knowledge to give his deputy the strongest support so that he can continue to deliver the stronger and safer future for the people of St, Kitts. At least this is better than the deafening and uncomfortable silence of the Prime Minister of Dominica, who appears to be giving all indication that he is settling in to stay another 20+ plus years as the Labour boss.
Prime Minister Gaston Brown of Antigua and Barbuda and Leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), who is also serving a second term in office, has also indicated that he would like to introduce the topic of the tenure of the prime ministership of regional leaders for debate on the agenda of CARICOM as the issue has been raised in almost every Member State especially in Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and St. Kitts and Nevis. According to Prime Minister Browne, “My comrades don’t like when I say this but I believe in term limits because after a while people become so frustrated, when you’re in office for too long then they start to do things to literally hurt the country in order to get rid of the incumbent….I believe two or three terms as Prime Minister…unfortunately, we’re not getting the level of maturity with the Caribbean that we can have discussion in a serious way.”
According to Ms. Louise Gail, in a personal online blog in which she discussed the pros and cons of establishing term limits for politicians, she lists the following, which is viewed in the context of the Caribbean, specifically Dominica.
* Brings fresh /new ideas to the table. When the same people (especially a long serving dominant, controlling, manipulative, socio-political influencing figure like Prime Minister Skerrit and Ralph Gonsalves, who have served as the leader of their respective political parties and countries for so many years, the same debates happen over and over again and the ‘brainwashed” supporters embrace nothing more than the same. The low turnover rates in government, therefore, creates a foundation of stale ideas and suffocates the birth of new and progressive ideas that can provide different perspectives and which could inspire needed change that could benefit the whole of society
* May encourage people to become more politically active and vote: Although many people vote in every election, the percentage of eligible registered voters who refuse to vote tend to increase in time the longer the incumbent remains in office. Many people in constituencies with the same representative abstain from voting. If progressive thinking people know that a party or representative is likely to be re-elected as is the case for a Labour Party candidate in Portsmouth, Cottage or Grand bay, they could be demotivated and dissuaded from getting involved in the political process. On the other hand, the establishment of term limits would excite potential voters, get them involved and motivate them to come out to vote because there would be new/better and/or more opportunities for change. Ralph, Keith, Roosevelt, Reginald, Rayburn, Ian and Hector would be out. Voters would know that even if their preferred candidate loses, the set term limit would be an automatic deadline that cannot be changed.
* Stops and/or limits political power maneuvering: Many political systems are designed to favour the incumbent-hence the incumbency advantage in the electoral process used to keep politicians in office. As soon as politicians are elected, they quickly turn their attention to the next election cycle days. Incumbents usually wield a lot of power – most times corruptly so- to remain in office. In that regard, term limits help to cut away or at least diminish this unfair advantage and leverage. The focus can be placed on good governance instead of being re-elected for another term.
* May limit or impact the negative influence of lobbyists: Special interests lobby many of their efforts toward keeping specific politicians, who support their cause in power. These special interests are often contrary to the will of the people. By establishing term limits for politicians more new candidates would be able to present their ideas and that could help to balance out the scales of influence in each election and interest groups such as MMC, SC Global, The Nestman Group and other passport selling, CBI agents would lose their power and influence over the affairs of government.
*Could limit the potential for corruption: When politicians have a specific time in office, there is less of a risk of corruption entering into the conversation and even when there is corruption, the fact that the perpetrators know that they will be out of power after a certain term, the likelihood of their involvement in corrupt practices is diminished, albeit not eliminated. Newly elected officials will usually have less knowledge about how to influence and manipulate the system for their own personal gain as the more entrenched old timers. The new members are usually more skeptical of special interest lobbying efforts as well. Having more new faces come through because term limits would make it more difficult to unduly influence future laws or corrupt operating schemes
On the other hand, as expressed by the members and staunch tribalistic supporters of the DLP, particularly from stronghold constituencies like Portsmouth, where irrespective of the quality of representation from inept politicians for over many years, the candidates of the same political party, from the same family is repeatedly and drunkenly elected by socio-politically conscience, bright and otherwise progressively thinking constituents, who ought to know better.
They proudly advance their reasoning against term limits thus;
*Reduces talent pool in small societies: An astute member of the Douglas dynasty opined in response to Part I of this article that term limits work best only where the pool of talent is vast in more populous societies such as in the US and Europe. While that may be true, one notes that crooked, power hungry politicians have eliminated terms limits in larger and more populous societies like Russia and China and in the United States has ended up with a naughty adult child as President, who is crying foul against the same electoral system that ushered him in now that the electorates have forced him out at the end of his failed first and only term in office.
* Good leaders may be forced to retire. This flawed argument is also advanced that term limits are only beneficial where there are poor leaders in governance, who keep getting re-elected as is the case in Dominica. At the same time, however, where good leaders are hardworking and “deserve” to remain in office- as Labourites would argue in favour of PM Skerrit, term limits force them out prematurely. But “poor” and “good” are relative descriptions in governance and such an argument does not hold water. A good and deserving leader, like Nelson Mandela knows the benefit of effecting change in governance. Mandela promised to be in office for only one term and allowed another deserving leader to replace him unlike other selfish leaders, who have employed all the tricks in the electoral books, manipulated the system of governance and corruptly abused the incumbency advantage to remain in office.
*Changes the learning curve. There’s a saying that goes, “It takes 6 months to learn a job and another 6 months to become good at it.” Being a politician has a learning curve, just like every other job. For young or novice politicians, their first term might be dedicated to learning how things work in the system. By enforcing term limits, it is argued, more politicians would be forced to go through this learning curve and that could mean even less stuff gets done. However, when long serving incumbents are not doing much and have become unproductive, corrupt, inept, stale and lackadaisical, it may serve the society best to have highly motivated, fresh minds riding the curve with new vision to usher in meaningful change.
*Networking benefits would be lost. It is also argued that over time, politicians develop a professional network, just like most people do in their own line of work. The difference is that the network of a politician can include officials from other governments, from industry leaders, and people with niche expertise. The presence of that network can help stuff get done. Therefore, term limits would require more networks to be developed from scratch. However, this argument misses the mark. It is institutions that give strength to democracy, government, society and ensure continuity and growth. People come and go and fresh ideas keep the society inspired and vitalized. As long as we have strong independent institutions, the potential lost from the departure of individuals can be mitigated.
*It could create rogue politicians. In an interesting twist, the argument is advanced that if a member of parliament is on his/her final term in office, he/she knows that he won’t be returning to office and rather than focusing on leaving a positive legacy behind, he/she may not be motivated to be a true representative and therefore engage in transparent, good and accountable governance at that point. The individual may instead choose to ignore what the constituents want or desire nor would they be focused on adhering to the provisions of the Constitution, laws, conventions or norms of the political system because there is no longer any accountability- assuming that there was before. Not every politician would go rogue, but term limits could increase the chances that such an event could occur.
Of course, we could add some more pros and cons depending on where we examine things along the political divide. These pros and cons, however, show that no system will be perfect and all will pose challenges that must be met in the course of governing large or small, rich or poor, developed or undeveloped, ignorant or educated societies.
Perhaps, it is good for constituents of a constituency that has been represented in parliament by a single family belonging to the same political party for over 65 years or for a young Prime Minister, who was once an inexperienced novice and is now an expert manipulator to continue to leader for another 50 years or perhaps now is the time for effective change as it was 5 or 10 years ago. Maybe having new perspectives in our governance could help Dominica grow. Who really knows?
But we remain confident that whether in life business or politics, change is a must, albeit it takes time to get used to and even the greats struggle to keep up because every second, minute, day the clock of nature embraces change and resets
Whatever we may think, the following expression forever holds true and reinforces the benefits of having term limits in bringing about change-“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” Albert Einstein)
For change is life.
Change is for development and for betterment
Change is inevitable in life and necessary for the greater good
Change is seldom bad so we must embrace change
Making small changes lead to greatness
Term limits usher in necessary change
Change is indeed a MUST!