Term of office

A term of office, electoral term, or parliamentary term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election. Some jurisdictions exercise term limits, setting a maximum number of terms an individual may hold in a particular office.

United Kingdom

Being the origin of the Westminster system, aspects of the United Kingdom's system of government are replicated in many other countries.


The monarch serves as head of state until their death or abdication.

House of Commons

In the United Kingdom Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons are elected for the duration of the parliament. Following dissolution of the Parliament, a general election is held which consists of simultaneous elections for all seats. For most MPs this means that their terms of office are identical to the duration of the Parliament. An individual's term may be cut short by death or resignation. An MP elected in a by-election mid-way through a Parliament, regardless of how long they have occupied the seat, is not exempt from facing re-election at the next general election.

The Septennial Act 1715 provided that a Parliament expired seven years after it had been summoned; this maximum period was reduced to five years by the Parliament Act 1911. Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 parliaments had no minimum duration. Parliaments could be dissolved early by the monarch at the prime minister's request. Early dissolutions occurred when the make-up of Parliament made forming government impossible (as occurred in 1974), or, more commonly, when the incumbent government reasoned an early general election would improve their re-election chances (e.g. 2001). The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 mandated that Parliaments should last their full five years; early dissolution remained possible but under much more limited circumstances. However, the act was repealed in 2022 and replaced with the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, which restored the pre-2011 constitutional situation.

Because the government and prime minister are effectively indirectly elected through the Commons, the terms of Parliaments and MPs do not directly apply to offices of government, though in practice these are affected by changes in Parliament. While, strictly speaking, a prime minister whose incumbency spans multiple Parliaments only serves one, unbroken, term of office, some writers may refer to the different Parliaments as separate terms.[1]

House of Lords

Hereditary peers and life peers retain membership of the House of Lords for life, though members can resign or be expelled. Lords Spiritual hold membership of the House of Lords until the end of their time as bishops, though a senior bishop may be made a life peer upon the end of their bishopric (e.g. George Carey, made Baron Carey of Clifton the day after he ceased being Archbishop of Canterbury).

Devolved administrations

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are variations on the system of government used at Westminster.

The office of the leader of the devolved administrations has no numeric term limit imposed upon it. However, in the case of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government there are fixed terms for which the legislatures can sit. This is imposed at five years. Elections may be held before this time but only if no administration can be formed, which has not happened yet.

Other elected offices

Offices of local government other regional elected officials follow similar rules to the national offices discussed above, with persons elected to fixed terms of a few years.

United States


In the United States, the president of the United States is elected indirectly through the United States Electoral College to a four-year term, with a term limit of two terms (totaling eight years) or a maximum of ten years if the president acted as president for two years or less in a term where another was elected as president, imposed by the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951.

The Vice President also serves four-year terms but without any term limit. U.S. Representatives serve two-year terms. U.S. Senators serve six-year terms.

Federal judges have different terms in office. Article I judges; such as those that sit on the United States bankruptcy courts, United States Tax Court, and United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and certain other federal courts and other forms of adjudicative bodies serve limited terms: The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for 15 years, bankruptcy courts for 14. However, the majority of the federal judiciary, Article III judges (such as those of the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and federal district courts), serve for life.

State and territories

The terms of office for officials in state governments varies according to the provisions of state constitutions and state law.

The term for state governors is four years in all states but Vermont and New Hampshire; the Vermont and New Hampshire governors serve for two years.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in January 2007 that among state legislatures:[2]

Among territories of the United States:

Members of Council of the District of Columbia serve a four-year term.


As a former British territory following the Westminster System, there are many similarities with the United Kingdom, although with some variations based on local customs, the federal system of government and the absentee monarch.


Being a Commonwealth realm, Canada shares a monarch with the United Kingdom and 14 other countries, who serves as head of state of all 15 realms until his or her death or abdication.


The governor general is appointed by the monarch as his/her personal representative on the advice of the prime minister, and serves for an indefinite term, though the normal convention is 5 years. Similarly, the lieutenant governors, who represent the monarch at the provincial level, are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister (usually also with consultation of the relevant provincial premier), and generally also serve 5 year terms by convention. The territories have commissioners, who are not representatives of the monarch, but are instead appointed by and represent the governor-in-council (i.e. the federal cabinet), and conventionally serve for about 5 years.

House of Commons

Similar to the United Kingdom, MPs serve for the duration of the Parliament. They may resign before the end of a Parliament or be elected in by-elections during the middle of a Parliament.

Under the Constitution Act, 1867, a Parliament may last for a maximum of 5 years from the most recent election before expiring, although all Parliaments to date have been dissolved before they could expire. Bill C-16, introduced in the 39th Parliament, provided for fixed election dates every 4 years on the third Monday in October, beginning in 2009. However, the Prime Minister may still advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at any time.

As in the United Kingdom, the cabinet and head of government are indirectly elected based on the composition of the House of Commons, they are not technically affected by the terms of legislators or Parliaments. In practice however, the terms of government office holders are affected by changes in the House of Commons, and those who serve for multiple consecutive Parliaments are generally considered to have served a single term. The term of a government generally ends when it is defeated on a confidence matter or the governing party fails to gain enough seats in a general election.


Senators are appointed to the Canadian Senate to represent a province, territory, or group of provinces, by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister, and serve until the mandatory retirement age of 75. Senators appointed before the passage of the British North America Act, 1965 served for life. Senators may also resign from office or be expelled from the Senate.

Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

Provincial legislatures and the legislature of the Yukon function very similarly to the federal House of Commons. MLAs (called MPPs in Ontario, MNAs in Quebec, and MHAs in Newfoundland and Labrador) serve for the duration of the legislature, though they may resign before the legislature is dissolved or be elected in by-elections between general elections. The legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut operate using a consensus model, but are similar otherwise. The premiers and their cabinets are selected in the same way as in the House of Commons, and like at the federal level, the term of a provincial government can be ended by defeat in a general election or the loss of the legislature's confidence.

All provincial legislatures except that of Nova Scotia have fixed-term election legislation in place, as does the legislature of the Northwest Territories. Premiers may also advise Lieutenant Governors to dissolve legislatures at any time before the prescribed election date.


In the Netherlands the position of Minister-President (Prime Minister) is limited to four years (counted from the moment the government is officially formed) although it can be repeated indefinitely after subsequent elections. It is common for the heads of governments in the Netherlands to take up the mantle multiple times, although it's neither expected or required to do so, more often a consequence of governments breaking up internally before their official four years are over and reforming with other parties. This is how the Netherlands ended up with consequent cabinets by: 4x Willem Drees (Drees-Van Schaik I '48, Drees I '51, Drees II '52 - Drees III '56) 3x Dries van Agt (Van Agt I '77, Van Agt II '81, Van Agt III '82) 4x Jan Peter Balkenende (Balkenende I '02, Balkenende II '03, Balkenende III '06, Balkenende IV '07) 4x Mark Rutte (Rutte I '10, Rutte II '12, Rutte III '17, Rutte IV '22).


Between 1982 and 2018, the Constitution of China stipulated that the president, vice president, premier, vice premiers could not serve more than two consecutive terms. In March 2018, China's party-controlled National People's Congress passed a set of constitutional amendments including removal of term limits for the president and vice president, as well as enhancing the central role of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[3][4] On 17 March 2018, the Chinese legislature reappointed Xi as president, now without term limits; Wang Qishan was appointed vice president.[5][6] The following day, Li Keqiang was reappointed premier and longtime allies of Xi, Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia, were voted in as vice-chairmen of the state military commission.[7] Foreign minister Wang Yi was promoted to state councillor and General Wei Fenghe was named defence minister.[8]

According to the Financial Times, Xi expressed his views of constitutional amendment at meetings with Chinese officials and foreign dignitaries. Xi explained the decision in terms of needing to align two more powerful posts—General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC)—which have no term limits. However, Xi did not say whether he intended to serve as party general secretary, CMC chairman and state president, for three or more terms.[9]

Terms of office by country

Heads of state
Upper houses
Lower houses
2 3  4  5  6  7 >7
Not applicableUnclearVariesUntil removed

Numbers in years unless stated otherwise. Note that some countries where fixed-term elections are uncommon, the legislature is almost always dissolved earlier than its expiry date. "Until removed from office" refers to offices that don't have fixed terms; in these cases, the officeholder(s) may serve indefinitely until death, abdication, resignation, retirement, or forcible removal from office (such as impeachment).

In most cases where the head of government is a different person from the head of state, its term of office is identical to the chamber that elected it (the legislature if it is unicameral, or most usually the lower house if it is bicameral), unless it doesn't survive a vote of no confidence.

CountryHead of stateMembers of the upper house[lower-alpha 1]Members of the lower house
 AfghanistanUntil removed from office
 AndorraUntil removed from office (Bishop of Urgel) 5 (President of France)
 Antigua and BarbudaUntil removed from office55
 AustraliaUntil removed from office63
 Austria64 to 65
 BahamasUntil removed from office55
 BahrainUntil removed from office44
 BelgiumUntil removed from office55
 BelizeUntil removed from office55
 BhutanUntil removed from office55
 Bosnia and Herzegovina4[lower-alpha 2]44
 Burkina Faso565
 BruneiUntil removed from office5
 CambodiaUntil removed from office65
 CanadaUntil removed from officeUntil removed from office4
 Cape Verde55
 Central African Republic55
 Republic of China44
 Ivory Coast555
 Costa Rica44
 Czech Republic564
 DR Congo555[12]
 DenmarkUntil removed from office4
 Dominican Republic444
 El Salvador53
 Equatorial Guinea75
 EritreaUntil removed from officeUntil removed from office
 Germany54 to 54
 GrenadaUntil removed from office55
 IranUntil removed from office4
 Italy[lower-alpha 3]755
 JamaicaUntil removed from office55
 JapanUntil removed from office64
 JordanUntil removed from office44
 KuwaitUntil removed from office4
 LibyaUntil removed from officeUntil removed from officeUntil removed from office
 LesothoUntil removed from office55
 LiechtensteinUntil removed from office4
 LuxembourgUntil removed from office5
 North Macedonia54
 Marshall Islands44
 MonacoUntil removed from office5
 MoroccoUntil removed from office65
 NetherlandsUntil removed from office44
 New ZealandUntil removed from office3
 North Korea55
 NorwayUntil removed from office4
 OmanUntil removed from office44
 Papua New GuineaUntil removed from office5
 QatarUntil removed from office4
 Saint Kitts and NevisUntil removed from office5
 Saint LuciaUntil removed from office55
 Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesUntil removed from office5
 San Marino0.5 (6 months)5
 São Tomé and Príncipe54
 Saudi ArabiaUntil removed from office4
 Sierra Leone55
 Solomon IslandsUntil removed from office4
 South Africa555
 South Korea54
 South Sudan5[15]Unknown5
 SpainUntil removed from office44
 Sri Lanka55
 SudanUntil removed from officeUntil removed from officeUntil removed from office
 EswatiniUntil removed from office55
 SwedenUntil removed from office4
 Switzerland4[lower-alpha 4]44
 ThailandUntil removed from office64
 East Timor55
 TongaUntil removed from office5
 Trinidad and Tobago555
 TuvaluUntil removed from office4
 United Arab Emirates54
 United KingdomUntil removed from officeUntil removed from office5
 United States462
  Vatican CityUntil removed from office5

See also

Further reading

  • Alexander Baturo and Robert Elgie (eds.). 2019. The Politics of Presidential Term Limits. Oxford University Press.


  1. Excludes senators for life.
  2. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of three members as a collective head of state, all elected at the same time via popular vote, by different constituencies each, every four years.
  3. In Italy the ‘‘prorogatio’’, unlike the real extension of the term, does not affect the duration of the electoral mandate, but only concerns the exercise of the powers in the interval between the deadline, natural or anticipated, of this mandate, and the entry into office of the new elected body.[13]
  4. The Federal Council of Switzerland is composed of seven members as a collective head of state, all elected at the same time by the Federal Assembly of Switzerland every four years.


  1. "Margaret Thatcher". Biography.com. Retrieved 5 February 2016. During her three terms…
  2. "Number of Legislators, Terms of Office, Next Election". Webarchive.loc.gov. Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2022-03-08.
  3. Shi, Jiangtao; Huang, Kristin (26 February 2018). "End to term limits at top 'may be start of global backlash for China'". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 27 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  4. Phillips, Tom (4 March 2018). "Xi Jinping's power play: from president to China's new dictator?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  5. Wen, Philip (17 March 2018). "China's parliament re-elects Xi Jinping as president". Reuters. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  6. Bodeen, Christopher (17 March 2018). "Xi reappointed as China's president with no term limits". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 17 March 2018. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  7. Zhou, Xin (18 March 2018). "Li Keqiang endorsed as China's premier; military leaders confirmed". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 27 August 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  8. Ng, Teddy (19 March 2018). "China's foreign minister gains power in new post as state councillor". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 5 March 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  9. Mitchell, Tom (7 September 2019). "China's Xi Jinping says he is opposed to life-long rule". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018. President insists term extension is necessary to align government and party posts
  10. "Constitution of Armenia - Library - the President of Armenia".
  11. http://www.laltdh.org/pdf/constution_tchad.pdf
  12. http://www.unesco.org/education/edurights/media/docs/30fc959de50075fb86d6f23e93148d2f48056a21.pdf
  13. Buonomo, Giampiero (2003). "Norme regionali annullate, ma sulla "prorogatio" del Consiglio passa il federalismo". Diritto&Giustizia Edizione Online. Archived from the original on 2012-08-01. Retrieved 2016-04-03.
  14. Jean-Pierre Maury. "Madagascar, Constitution de la IVe République 2010, Digithèque MJP". Mjp.univ-perp.fr. Retrieved 2022-03-08.
  15. "South Sudan 2011 (rev. 2013)". Constitute Project. Retrieved 5 September 2022.

IPU Parline database on national parliaments

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