The term of the Swiss Federal Council is four years and the office of its President rotates every year among its members. The nominated Governors-General of Canada and Australia were appointed for a term of five years.
The argument in favour of short tenures for the executive is that the shorter the period of office, the greater the security against abuse of power.
There had prevailed a strong belief in the democratic countries that executives with long tenures are always exposed to a temptation to transform their offices by means of a coup d’etat into monarchy tenure, as Napoleon did when he converted his Consulship of ten years into one for life and then into an imperial office.
Whatever be the verdict of history, there is no denying the fact that too short a term of office, like one or two years, is politically inexpedient.
A short term makes the executive timid, weak, lacking in independence, and without a policy. There is neither any inducement nor any incentive to initiate either a new policy or a programme. The most that can be expected of the majority of men, under such circumstances, will be “the negative merits of not doing harm instead of the positive merit of doing well.”
Popularly elected Executives are generally amateurs in the art of administration. By the time they acquire some familiarity with their duties and responsibilities, their brief term of office expires and they quit. The result is that another amateur comes in who is as much inexperienced as his predecessor was.
Continuity of executive policy and stability of administration are impossible under such circumstances. Moreover, short tenures mean frequent elections accompanied by the inevitable popular excitement and commotion.
The term of office for the executive head should neither be too short nor too long. A very short term of office bears no fruit and a very long term may lead to abuse of power. A four to five years’ term has much more to commend it. It is long enough to constitute energy, stability and efficiency in administration. It can also ensure responsibility of the executive to public opinion.
It is a period, observed Chancellor Kent, reasonably long enough to make the executive “feel firm and independent in the discharge of his trust and to give stability and some degree of maturity to his system of administration.”
A six-year or seven-year term is not favoured. It is considered to be an unduly long term. A responsibility which cannot be enforced at shorter intervals than once in six or seven years manifestly loses much of its effectiveness.