be allowed to run for re-election indefinitely.
Term limits can check corruption
and promote political accountability.
Since the mid-1990s, no term limits, but the difference has legislation to control the use and
fewer than 10 countries of Latin Amer- been less perceptible during the last abuse of state resources in an elec-ica have attempted to reform, rewrite decade. The longer a chief executive toral campaign. There are few rules
orreinterpret their constitutions. The holds power, the more the delinea- that determine when a president
chief motivation has been to extend tion between the state and the rul- seeking re-election is a chief of state,
the mandate of a popular chief execu- ing party becomes blurred. A third with unrivaled and unfettered access
tive. For the most part, public debate term erodes the balance of power to public resources, and when he or
has concentrated on extending, but and weakens the authority of au- she is a presidential candidate, draw-not eliminating, presidential term tonomous legislatures, independent ing on private or public campaign
limits. Yet as stunted and unequal judiciaries, neutral electoral author- funds. Even in the most consolidated
growth exacerbates political polar- ities, and competitive political par- of multiparty democracies, interna-ization, interest has mounted in do- ties. Forays into a third term and tional observers have reported flaing away altogether with term lim- beyond distract from implement- grant use of state resources during
its. This would be a mistake. Term ing important policies, contribute the electoral campaign.
limits provide an important check to political polarization and smack Eliminating or unduly extending
on the concentration of power; they of soft authoritarianism. term limits engenders corruption,
strengthen democracy and ensure Brazil, one of the largest democra- the main cause of public distrust in
long-term stability. cies in the world, is one of the best democratic institutions, and a signif-
Term limits fall into three general illustrations of the benefits of term icant obstacle to economic develop-categories: the complete prohibition limits. Presidents are banned from ment in the region. Latin American
of re-election (Mexico); a limit to two serving beyond a second term. As a presidents possess a disproportion-consecutive terms of usually four result, government and opposition ate amount of influence over other
years (Brazil); and the prohibition forces over the past 16 years have branches ofgovernment. In the face
of consecutive re-election (Chile). developed an equilibrium of power, of political gridlock, they can rule
The latter restriction has the practi- which in turn has helped the coun- by decree. They can choose and dis-cal effect of limiting the executive try address its deepest problems miss their cabinets with little or no
to t wo, often very distinct, terms in through consensus. The result has congressional oversight and hire and
office as exemplified by the admin- been internationally acclaimed anti- fire other officials at will. In times
istrations of Alan García in Peru and poverty programs, including condi- of emergency, they can suspend ba-Oscar Arias in Costa Rica. tional cash transfers and long-term sic civil rights and possess signifi-
At the moment, several incumbent investments in primary education. cant economic and political influ-governments in Latin America are Defeating a long-sitting president ence over the media.
trying to allow a third presidential in Latin America is a forbidding task. Peruvian President Alberto Fuji-term; one, Venezuela has eliminated The spontaneous, ad hoc efforts to mori’s heavy-handed efforts to con-executive term limits altogether. t weak constitutions to expand the centrate his presidential powers and
Of course, there is a distinction be- mandates of sitting presidents has his continued efforts to extend his
tween eliminating and extending not been followed by meaningful (COn TInuED On PAGE 21)
americas quarterly 19