Xi Jinping will have no limit to his term, but what about leaders in the rest of the world? 

Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for over 12 years, while Shinzo Abe is on his fourth term as prime minister of Japan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 5:44pm

When China’s late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping introduced a two-term limit on presidents and vice-presidents in 1982 it was intended, in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, to prevent the rise of an omnipotent leader with a lifelong mandate.

At the legislative sessions that start next week, Beijing is set to remove that restriction and in doing so clear the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

While the presidency in China is largely a ceremonial post domestically – Xi’s real power comes as general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, on which there are no term limits – the title does carry weight internationally as it enables its holder to meet other heads of state on an equal footing.

In many countries, including Germany, Japan, Britain and Singapore, there are no restrictions at all on how many terms a leader can serve, while in others, like Russia, anything is possible if you know how to play the system. The difference is that in most of these countries, the mandate to rule must be renewed by regular elections – and even in Russia, Vladimir Putin could be unseated.

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The head of government, or chancellor, is not subject to any term restrictions as long as he or she retains a majority in the lower house of the federal parliament, or Bundestag, which itself has a term of four years.

Incumbent Angela Merkel, 63, has been chancellor for more than 12 years after taking office in November 2005. While her Christian Democratic Union party won the latest federal election in September, it failed to secure a majority and Merkel is now fighting to create a coalition that would allow her to enter a historic fourth term.

Germany also has a president, but this is a ceremonial role with a limit of two consecutive five-year terms.


Japanese prime ministers stay in power for a maximum of four years per term, but there are no limits on the number of terms an individual can serve.

In 2006, Shinzo Abe, then aged 52, became Japan’s youngest post-war prime minister, only to resign the following year, partly due to ill health. In December 2012, he regained the top post and won re-elections in both 2014 and 2017.

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Russian presidents can serve an unlimited number of six-year terms as long as they are not consecutive, while there are no such restrictions on the less powerful role of prime minister.

Vladimir Putin, the current president, has played the system to his advantage by switching back and to between the two roles with Dmitry Medvedev. Putin first held the presidency from 2000-08, after which he served as prime minister under Medvedev, before reclaiming the leader’s chair in 2012.

United States

The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution in 1951 placed a limit of two four-year terms on the presidency. While the inaugural 1787 charter had no such restriction, when George Washington refused to pursue a third term in 1797, he started the tradition of presidents serving only two terms.

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While there are no limits on the number of terms a British prime minister can serve, they must maintain the support of the House of Commons, which has a maximum term of five years. The leader of the party that gains the most votes in the general election is invited by the monarch to form a government as prime minister.


The head of government in Singapore is the prime minister. Elections are held every five years but there are no term limits.

Incumbent Lee Hsien Loong – the eldest son of the city state’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who also founded the ruling People’s Action Party – has been in power since 2004.

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Since 1987, the island nation’s constitution has stipulated that a president can serve for only one six-year term and cannot seek re-election. Incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, 71, has held the office since June 2016.

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South Korea 

The president of the Republic of Korea is elected for a five-year term, with no possibility of re-election. The current post-holder, Moon Jae-in, 65, was elected in May last year, after his predecessor Park Geun-hye was impeached in December 2016.