President George Washington set a precedent, limiting it to two terms. This was scrupulously followed till President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke it and offered himself for the third and fourth terms and was re-elected. The Constitution now limits it to two-term election. The Irish Constitution permits one term re-election. The Burmese Constitution, too, was limited to one term re-election. The Constitution of India does not impose any express limitation to the number of terms for which the President may be re-elected.
When the first President Rajendra Prasad was elected for the second term, a non-official Bill was sponsored in the House of People in 1957, favouring restriction to two consecutive terms. The Bill was withdrawn after the Law Minister expressed the view that such matters should be left to convention and not decided by statute. Dr. Prasad did not offer himself for election for a third term, and thus, a two-term precedent was set. Many advantages are claimed for a single term. Ineligibility to a second term, it is maintained, tends to secure independence in the executive, and it serves as a check upon the personal ambitions of the head of the State.
A man who knows that he is not eligible for re-election will not pander to the people. In all his public acts he will maintain independence of character and judgment. When re-election is permitted, he will undertake nothing new and a large portion of the latter part of his term of office will be occupied in matters relating to his election and to the neglect of his official duties. But the consensus of opinion is in favour of re-eligibility of Executive Heads elected for short terms. The advantages of re-eligibility were nicely summed up by Hamilton in The Federalist. He asserted that re-election of the executive was necessary “to enable the people, when they see reason to approve of his conduct to continue him in the station in order to prolong the utility of his talents and virtues, and to secure to the government the advantage of permanency in a wise system of government.” The system of re-eligibility enables the State to retain the services of experienced and talented men who command public approbation and confidence.
To forbid re-eligibility is to deprive the State of the services of a wise and experienced statesman. “What could be stranger,” maintained Judge Story, “than to declare at the moment when wisdom was acquired that the possessor of it should no longer be enabled to use it for the very purpose for which it was acquired.” A man who is assured of re-election can best harmonise his interests with duty. Re-eligibility helps him to rise high in the service of the nation. “The desire of reward and fame,” to quote Hamilton again, “is one of the strongest incentives of human conduct; and the best security for the fidelity of mankind is to make their interest coincide with their duty.” The rule of ineligibility, on the other hand, creates in the Executive Head a tendency to make the best use of the opportunity in order to promote personal ends. He “might not scruple to resort to the most corrupt expedients to make the harvest as abundant as it was transitory.” Finally, re-eligibility ensures stability in administration.
If re-eligibility is not permitted, administration would drift along without plan or policy. The expediency of re-eligibility, however, depends upon the length of the term of office and the extent of power which the executive head actually exercises. One elected for six or seven years can manifestly be made ineligible for a second term but the executive head elected for, say, four or five years should obviously be made eligible for the second term to increase his responsibility.