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In many countries, there is an upper bound on how much time the same person can be a president. For example, in the USA the upper bound is 8 years. This has the advantage of letting more people hold the power, but has the disadvantage that the country might miss the merits of a very good president.

A possible compromise is to allow re-election after the upper bound, but require a larger majority. For example: after serving for 8 years, the president would need 60% majority to be re-elected; after 12 years, 70% majority; and so on (if the incumbent president does not win this special majority, but the rival also does not win a majority, then there should be a second vote in which he is not allowed to participate). Thus, a very good president will be able to serve longer.

Has such an idea ever been suggested or implemented?

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    Say a candidate needs 60%, and the outcome is a three-way split, 55%, 30%, 15%. What then? Let the30% candidate win?
    – o.m.
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 9:27
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    This will encourage the entrenched president to not just stay for more terms but break/falsify elections to show even more votes in their favor. Think Lukashenko.
    – alamar
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 9:31
  • Note that there are other possibilities, which are more commonly implemented, such as limiting just consecutive terms. On the idea that running again while being not in office doesn't offer the same trappings of power (in particular, the ability to abuse it for electoral purpose). Although of course, we saw how that worked in Russia... Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 10:03
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    The upper bound is actually 10 years if they serve 2 years of another persons term and 8 years of their own.
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 14:02
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    "Presidents" in pseudo-democracy win >90% of the votes easy peasy bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-26527422, so not really an argument for a good president serving longer, but for cheating president serving a longer
    – Martheen
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 4:23

2 Answers 2

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It's seemingly quite rare, but it's been proposed sometimes, and is even presently in use at non-presidential level, as this 2021 paper notes:

Re-election hurdles that are tighter than the majority rule have been explicitly used in practice. In the Swiss canton of Zurich, long-term Social Democrat deputies of the Swiss National Council currently need two thirds of the votes to be eligible for the next term (see Art. 7 in SP Kanton Zürich (2010)). In Argentina, in a text of the constitution that failed to be approved in 1819, the Head of State could only be re-elected for a second term if s/he obtained a two-third majority of votes (Article 73) (see e.g. Presa, 2019). In Liberia, in the constitutional text of 1955, (a) a second term is prohibited unless the majority votes for it and (b) if voted on and elected, the incumbent’s second term is shortened (Article 3.1) (see e.g. Steinberg, 1962): “The Supreme Executive Power shall be vested in a President who shall be elected by the people, and shall hold his/her office for a term of eight years. No President may be elected for two consecutive terms of eight years, but should a majority of the ballots cast at a second or any other succeeding election by all of the electors voting thereat elect him/her, his/her second or any other succeeding term of office shall be for four years”.

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I've seen this idea as background in a science fiction novel, which is probably not what you were thinking of. It worked well in that setting (in a very handwavey way), but the author never addressed the biggest issue with such a system: an insufficient majority.

Say that the threshold to stay in office is now 60% because of duration, and the incumbent wins 57% of the vote. Assuming a two-way split, that implies their opponent got 43% of it. Is it reasonable to have the 43% candidate win, even though they have 15% less support among the voters?

It gets even worse in a multi-candidate election, as @o.m. mentioned in a comment. Say that the non-incumbent vote was split 20%, 15%, 8%. If you disqualify the majority winner for not reaching their 60% threshold, you're now putting someone who only one out of five people supported into office. Or alternatively, as you suggest in the question, there can be a run-off election among the remaining three (either a full run-off or via something like IRV ranking) to let that 57% all get their second pick, but at that point the first election is really just an up-or-down on the incumbent.

So the only way I can see this as a workable system is if there is always the assumption that there is first an up/down vote on the incumbent, and then if they don't get sufficient support the office is declared vacant (or to-be-vacated) with a normal election for the now-empty seat. This would be similar to a no confidence vote within a parliament (or the US House, apparently) where it's basically a vote on whether or not to have an election (internally or externally) for a new government. I'm not aware of any parliament that has an increasing threshold, though.

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  • The run-off election does not need to be only among the remaining three; there can be another candidate from the same party of the incumbent. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 15:55
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi True, but that just makes the up-or-down nature of the first vote even more true, since it can potentially go to someone who wasn't even running the first time around.
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 12:06

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