Luxembourg term limit referendum

On June 7th, the same day as the Turkish and Mexican elections, Luxembourg held three referenda: one proposal would have reduced the voting age to 16, another would have extended voting rights to foreigners living in the country for more than 10 years and the last one would have imposed a ten-year term limit on serving as member of the government. All three proposals were resoundingly defeated, though the term limit measure came closer to being approved than the others (30% in favour).

The background for the term limit proposal is the premiership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who served lasted for no less than 18 years before resigning in 2013 amidst a corruption and spying scandal (he went on to become EU Commission President). Following early elections, a new government formed which excluded Juncker’s party, CSV, from government for the first time since 1979. It is this government that initiated these constitutional amendment proposals.

Though being very common among (semi-)presidential countries, term limits are exceedingly rare among parliamentary systems; the only examples I know of are Thailand and South Africa.

[MSS adds: Perhaps also Botswana among parliamentary systems. In semi-presidential systems, there certainly are cases of term limits on the president, but I do not think there are any such limits on membership in the cabinet. We might also add here that, as far as I know, the only cases with term limits on legislators are all pure presidential systems–some Latin American countries, including Mexico, as well as the Philippines and some US states, including California.]

8 thoughts on “Luxembourg term limit referendum

  1. I wouldn’t call Botswana parliamentary. I’m pretty sure the president (who is elected by the assembly) cannot be removed other than by impeachment.

    • Hmmm. Then a whole lot of political science classification of this case is wrong. I looked at the constitution years ago, but don’t recall details. But I have classified it as parliamentary, as have most others (among those who don’t simply ignore it).


        If the National Assembly at any time passes a resolution supported by a majority of all the Members of the Assembly who are entitled to vote declaring that it has no confidence in the Government of Botswana, Parliament shall stand dissolved on the fourth day following the day on which such resolution was passed, unless the President earlier resigns his office or dissolves Parliament.

  2. Until the Nakasone era, Japan’s LDP had a limit of (I think) four years as party president . This was imposed by party rules, not by the Constitution or statute : but since the LDP dominated Japan’s parliament for decades, this amounted to a de facto term limit on the nation’s Prime Ministers. Then Yasuhiro Nakasone set out to repeal it or simply ignore it. One or another US President, probably Eisenhower, complained how confusing it was to have to deal with a different Japanese PrM every few years.
    Ironically, the deeply consensual, corporatist nature of Japanese politics means it probably really doesnt matter much at all who is titutlary chairman of the board: policy is much more deeply embedded throughout all strata of the bureaucracy for a Prime Minister’s personal enthusiasms and projects to affect it much.)
    (Wikipedia says Nakasone (1) survived an extra year beyond the 4-year limit, but was then forced out by the Recruit scandal; (2) was denied a place on the LDP party list by an age limit of 73; and (3) is still alive today, at 97).
    I can see how term limits work with executive, directly elected presidents governors and mayors. You can legally disqualify any candidate who’s served the maximum time, and the legal powers of the chief executive vastly overshadow those of any other official. But in a parliamentary system, you might force a long-serving prime minister to retire, only to find he’s still calling the shots in Cabinet as some kind of senior Minister, as Lee Kuan Yew did. (But I suppose even if you disqualify them from the legislature, or from all elective offices, they might still be calling the shots from outside, like Brian Burke in Western Australia.)
    Between Jaopany and, now, possibly, Luxembourg, it seems quite anomalous for monarchies, of all polities, to impose term limits on their eĺected office-holders. It seems to me a “Spectator”-level degree of constitutional incoherence to argue on one hand that, say, Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair was corrupted by power after a dozen years as PrM while also insisting that Elizabeth II’s 63 years as Queen makes her an invaluable asset to the body politic. (I gather audiences were supposed to be awed, rather than aghast, when Helen Mirren tells Michael Sheen that she’s had ten previous Prime Ministers before him.) Where would, say, Urho Kekkonen fit in this antinomy between “long-serving elected officials = bad, danger to democracy, but long-serving heads of state = a good thing?”

    • A monarch can usefully serve a long term precisely because they have almost no power and accumulating experience helps with the job.

      A chief executive, by whatever title, cannot.

    • Sure, partisan rules or norms about leadership tenure are “informal” and of a different character from those imposed in constitutions. It is a good point that even a former PM banned from further service in the legislature (which no parliamentary system does under constitutional provision, as far as I know) could still exercise authority from within the party, if the party organization permitted it.

      One could say that the same is technically true in a party of an ex-president, but the whole dynamic of “presidentialization” makes it much less likely that an ex-president, whether remaining as a legislator or not, can influence a successor. There are such cases, but they are highly exceptional.

    • Agreed that the figure of party leader in the “classic” LDP (the 1960s-1990s, roughly) mattered little in terms of a leader putting his personal stamp on the party.

      I would put the reason for this phenomenon in the factional balancing mandated by internal rules and norms, not in the bureaucratic process (which was itself largely derivative of the way the political principal was organized). In fact, that is itself why tenure at the top was both formally limited and de facto generally much shorter than the limit.

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