In the United States the official qualifications for becoming president, as laid out in the Constitution, are incredibly low. The only requirements are that:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Is it pretty standard in modern democracies to set the qualifications so low and allow the electorate to vet the appropriateness of the candidates qualifications? Or are there countries that require specific educational and professional achievements from their candidates before they seek high elective office?

  • 4
    Are those incredibly low requirements? It means that a 33 year old who has lived in the country for 30 years is not eligible...
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:32
  • 1
    @gerrit I mean that they are incredibly low restrictions on that portion of the population. Constitutionally, anyone could become president (i.e. convicted felon, mentally challenged, anarchist). It seems reasonable to me that countries would demand more of their leaders. My question is, do modern democracies trust the population to do this vetting, or do any explicitly require it. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:44
  • Stricter requirements tend to be found in countries just transitioning to democracy.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 8, 2023 at 19:20
  • George Washington didn't have any formal qualifications, and he did OK at the job, so probably they felt it wasn't necessary to have a degree.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 12:16

6 Answers 6


Actually, that bar is unusually high.

Very few countries require candidates to be natural-born citizens. For instance, the current (January 2013) Prime Minister of Australia is Julia Gillard, who was born in Wales, not in Australia. Andrew Bonar Law was born in New Brunswick (now in Canada) and was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1922-23.

The age restriction is also unusual; most countries grant the right of candidature at the same time as the right to vote.

The length of residence is unusual too; most countries will allow anyone who is a citizen and a permanent resident to stand, even if they only moved back last week.

  • 1
    While Gillard is a good example, Law is not. British colonists were British subjects.
    – gormadoc
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 20:25
  • 2
    This is generally a good answer, but many republics do require heads of state to be much older than the voting age, e.g. Austria also 35 years old.
    – wonderbear
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 13:13
  • @wonderbear this is true, but only applies to the president. For most other offices it is 18, which is currently a bit higher than the right to vote, which is granted at 16 see this government site on "Right to vote"
    – Hulk
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 10:53

If you want to stand for election to Parliament in Britain, you don't even have to be British:

People wishing to stand as an MP must be over 18 years of age, be a British citizen or citizen of a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland.

  • 2
    Well, they did have Scottish, Norman, Roman and Norse monarchs. Not exactly a new concept for the country :)
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 23:57
  • You don't even have to be a legal resident - many Commonwealth citizens aren't. To stand for a local council or the European Parliament, you can be an EU citizen also. Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 13:07
  • The part about a citizen of the Republic of Ireland being able to be a U.K. MP is particularly notable to me, since that immediately evokes an issue that came across with Brexit - namely, that it reminds me that the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement were a thing. Apologies for the necropost, but out of curiosity - was that part of the text as a result of the Good Friday Agreement or post-agreement - or was it there beforehand? Commented May 8, 2023 at 10:33
  • 2
    @AlexanderThe1st Irish citizens have been eligible to stand for the British Parliament ... well certainly since Irish independence, and also prior to that (since they were British citizens). Commented May 9, 2023 at 7:47
  • 2
    @AlexanderThe1st The carveout for Irish citizens was the result of the terms of the agreement at Irish independence in 1922; separate citizenship for British and commonwealth citizens didn't happen until 1931, which the original reason these were treated separately. Ireland left the commonwealth in 1949, so the provision (which had never been removed) became meaningful again at that point. Commented May 12, 2023 at 16:36

I don't know about traditional, but in most countries whose system derives from the British Parliamentary system (e.g. UK, Canada, Australia) you can stand as an MP if you are eligible to vote - i.e. you must be a citizen and you must be 18 years old. In some places there are residency requirements too, but they are typically only a few years. If you are elected as an MP there are no further barriers to being Prime Minister (other than getting your fellow MPs to vote for you).


As an example, in Germany there are age and citizenship requirements (these are just be an adult and be a citizen, no "natural bornness" required, and no extra age except for president).

In particulra, there are no professional or educational conditions. We had both ministers without Abitur (high school diploma) and PhDs.

I guess the idea is that if the people consider someone a good representative of their views and interests, that's really all that's needed. This is in contrast to civil service positions, which are usually not elected, and which do require certain qualifications.


There are many places where there are high bars to political participation. In Russia, Navalny is prohibited from running for political office as a result of him being convicted of a crime. In Iran, candidates must be vetted by religious authorities. In China, they must be communist. In Montana, officials can be barred from speaking on the floor for criticizing Republican policies.

It is not just "standard" to "allow the electorate to vet the appropriateness of the candidates qualifications", that's pretty much the definition of "democracy". In a comment, you say "It seems reasonable to me that countries would demand more of their leaders." This suggests that there is some entity that the term "country" refers to, other than the will of the people. If decisions as to who is entitled to run for office are made by some entity that claims the right to overrule the people as to what the will of "the country" is, that's not democracy. If someone has to have a certain degree from an accredited institution to run for office, then those institutions are acting as a ruling class. And who decides what institutions gets to be "accredited"?


Or are there countries that require specific educational and professional achievements from their candidates before they seek high elective office?

Marx and Engels had famously proposed that under Communism the state should be run by people specifically trained in the principles of Marxism, i.e., in the principles of building and running a just society - the Party. They came with this idea when it became obvious that, despite the predictions of Marx, the proletariat failed to organize itself and engage in the revolutionary struggle. Hence, it was left up to the intellectuals (professional revolutionaries) to educate the proletariat and organize it - even though these intellectuals were not a part of the proletariat themselves. (Marx and Engels led a rather bourgeois life, typical of educated people in their times. Many of their followers were not proletarians either - notably Lenin and Che Guevara.)

The Marxist point of view was then criticized, as instead of a classless society it led to emergence of a New Class of party functionaries. It also undermined the Marxist doctrine that the class owning the means of production exercises disproportionate political power and uses its to own advantage, as in capitalism - here the party functionaries officially owned nothing, but lived in luxury and abused their power on massive scale.

Whether one considers various states built upon Marxist principles democratic is a matter of debate - this is certainly how they described themselves.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .