Africa: Presidential Term Limits Popular With Voters - Survey

A Nigerian goes to the polls.
1 June 2015

Cape Town — A survey of public opinion in 34 African countries shows that nearly three in every four Africans want their president to serve no more than two terms in office.

An analysis by Afrobarometer of its most recent country surveys shows that in only one of the 34 - Algeria - does support for term limits fall below 50 percent (44 percent).

Some of the strongest support for term limits comes from the citizens of countries whose leaders have spent decades in power, or where presidents or their supporters have raised the possibility of extending their terms.

Nine in 10 Beninois - the highest proportion of respondents in any country - want term limits in their country to remain, “making it all the more surprising that President Yayi Boni is reportedly contemplating removing them,” says Afrobarometer. Boni is nearing the end of his second term, having ruled since 2006.

In Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has ruled for nearly 30 years without term limits, 85 percent of citizens want them. In Togo, where they were removed in 2002, the same proportion said last year they wanted them (yet elected President Faure Gnassingbe to a third term in April this year).

With no sign of President Robert Mugabe stepping down after 35 years in power, 74 percent of Zimbabweans want to see term limits. Support for limits runs at 64 percent in Burkina Faso, where popular protests forced Blaise Compaoré to step down last year.

In Burundi - where President Pierre Nkurunziza's determination this year to stand for a third term has generated protest, a failed coup and the opposition of regional leaders and the African Union - support for term limits rose from 51 percent in 2012 to 62 percent last year.

The survey did not cover Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries which have term limits but where supporters of presidents Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila have said they want them to stay in office.

Support for limits in other countries ranged from 84 in Egypt to 83 percent in Kenya and Liberia, 80 percent in Ghana, 78 percent in Nigeria, 77 percent in Senegal, to 68 percent in South Africa.

Afrobarometer noted that the popularity of term limits soared in the democratic transitions of the 1990s. The decade began with only six countries having them, but of 64 constitutions adopted or amended in the 20 years which followed, 49 included limits.

But leaders have continued to resist them, and since 1998 nearly 30 countries have considered removing them, Afrobarometer said. In Eritrea they exist but are ignored.

“Although constitutions are meant to embody the aspirations of entire nations,” its report added, “the high level of support for term limits in countries that do not have these rules shows the chasm that exists between popular wishes and constitutional reality.”

Read the full Afrobarometer report here >>

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