By: Paul Wanaye
Term limits are important values of democracy. Term limits reduce inequalities in legislative power across constituencies and over time. More importantly, term limits make democratic choices far freer and lessen the seniority issue that makes it difficult for constituencies to oust ideologically unsatisfactory incumbents, besides reducing barriers that limit ballot options.
During their term in office, incumbents enjoy the benefit of public platforms that provide years of free political advertising. MPs have opportunities to make speeches, hold press conferences, appear on radio or television, participate in ceremonies like school openings, burials, etc. In other words, they are always in the news and in the public eye.
To compete, their opponents have to overcome that inherent edge with enormous amounts of paid political advertising. Not surprisingly, this creates a huge entry barrier. And that entry barrier keeps a lot of desirable opponents out.
Term limits lower entry barriers by reducing the years of effectively free political advertising an incumbent can enjoy. That in turn encourages more opponents, thus benefitting the political system in two ways: (1) by better defining the issues of the day and (2) by providing new ballot options for voters.
There is one way in which term limits increase interest group influence. Because term limits reduce the political insulation of incumbents, politicians become more accountable to all political influences in society, of which interest groups undoubtedly constitute a major part.
But there is no reason to think that a general increase in accountability will increase interest groups’ advantage over other political groups. And even if we identify when interest groups enjoy disproportionate influence in the political process, insulating politicians accountability hardly seems an improvement.
Term limits are particularly vital at a time when incumbents have come to enjoy such overwhelming advantages that voters generally have no meaningful choice on their ballot.
The arguments against term limits, while not illogical, are so weak – none of them can rebut the strong argument that term limits enhance the ability of electorates to have their views represented by their freely elected leaders.