From the reporting in the mainstream Western media, one might get the impression that the recent change to the Chinese constitution that allows one person to be chosen as the President of China more than twice made China suddenly "undemocratic".

New York Time example

Why is the removal of the two-presidential terms limit in China considered "undemocratic" by the mainstream media while the restriction on the freedom of American voters to choose the same President more than twice is not questioned?

It would seem that limiting the freedom of the people to choose their representative, the President, would be a violation of generally accepted definitions of democracy.

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    can you make it clear why this isn't a duplicate? Also 2 3
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 20:59
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    @indigochild would vote against duplication of that question, which asks why it's a big deal, while this one is why term limits on the United States President is not considered anti-democratic.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 21:16
  • @hszmv A question should be closed as a duplicate when the answers to another questions answer the new question. It's not that the two questions are identical, it's that their answers are. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 1:45
  • China's president isn't directly elected. Nor did China suddenly become non-democratic. Just a smidge more autocratic than before. And I find it funny you speak of elites in the US, but don't see that as applying to the CCP... or to Xi's "princelings" faction, in particular. Commented Jan 31 at 11:03

1 Answer 1


For starters, it's more of a tradition than an actual rule. The 2 term limit dates back to the first President, George Washington. Given the time he was in office, Washington was a surprisingly humble figure (refusing the title of "His Excellency" in favor of "Mr. President" and actually believed in the government he fought for. Towards the end of his first term, he was quoted as saying "I did not fight George the Third so I could become George the First" when questioned why he did not seek a third term

Historically, the tradition stuck. Presidents normally didn't run for a third term as it was deemed that after 8 years, either out of respect for Washington's dedication to the nature of the office, or because they died in office, or they were just so unpopular they wouldn't have been elected. The first President to buck this trend was Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) who successfully ran for a third term... followed by a fourth term, which he died during the course of.

At this point, there was a significant push to enshrine the office as a two term limit for the sake of changing status quo and in 1951 they drafted an amendment to the constitution doing just that (Though it allowed the incumbent FDR and VP Truman to be exempt from this law until they were voted out, though this did not happen. As mentioned, FDR died in office and Truman succeeded him for the remainder of his term and was re-elected for a full term, and then retired.). At present the maximum amount of time one can be President is 10 years though this has yet to happen (You must be the Vice President, who succeeds the President with less than two years remaining in a term, and then goes on to win two terms of his own).

Again, this isn't so much about democracy as it is tradition... Prior to FDR, Presidents Grant and Theodore Roosevelt (Yes, Teddy is related to FDR) both sought a third term, but were unsuccessful. The fact was that most of the Presidents who stood a chance of winning a third term stuck with a tradition and decided not to run again. For the bulk of the history of the country, it was just the way we were and no one was forced to do it.

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    I would note that places other than the US also have had term limits.
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 21:13
  • @notstoreboughtdirt OP specifically asked why the United States thought this was a good idea, hence the United-States tag the question is under.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 21:14
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    "[I]t's more of a tradition than an actual rule." No, it's an actual rule. It's in the constitution. And the (22nd) Amendment was ratified in 1951. It was drafted and proposed by Congress in 1947. Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 22:25
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    @DavidRicherby: Again, that was addressed in my answer. It was a tradition for nearly 163 years prior to being a rule. Again, I mentioned two occasions where an individual sought a third term but were not voted into office for that third term. It was only after the first successful 3+ term presidency that the country decided to enshrine it into law.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 14:34

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