Senator for life

A senator for life is a member of the senate or equivalent upper chamber of a legislature who has life tenure. As of 2016, five Italian Senators out of 321, three out of the 47 Burundian Senators and all members of the British House of Lords (apart from the 26 Lords Spiritual appointed until retirement at the age of 75) have lifetime tenure (although Lords can choose to resign or retire or can be expelled in cases of misconduct). Several South American countries once granted lifetime membership to former presidents but have since abolished the practice.



In Italy, a Senatore a vita is a member of the Italian Senate appointed by the President of the Italian Republic "for outstanding patriotic merits in the social, scientific, artistic or literary field". Former Presidents of the Republic are ex officio senators for life.

A limit of five senators for life, excluding former Presidents, is established by the Italian constitution, though there have been a debate as to whether five is the maximum allowed total number of senators for life appointed by the President of the Republic, or each President has the right to name five senators for life. Until 1984 the former interpretation (backed by almost all scholars in consideration of the representative character of the Senate) was considered correct, but in that year President Sandro Pertini applied the latter interpretation of the Constitution, and since then no measures have been taken to clarify the situation, made even more important by the key role senators for life had during the second Prodi Government. They have the same powers as elected senators, including the right to vote and be elected to the Presidency of the Senate. In addition, their mandate does not end with the dissolution of a Senate, allowing them to sit in any elected Senate for their whole lifetime. In 1992, with the Presidency of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, the first interpretation was restored and followed by all the successive presidents, allowing for a maximum of five appointed senators in office at the same time; moreover, almost all scholars support the stricter interpretation, and the question appears to be resolved.

Every President of the Italian Republic has made at least one appointment of a senator for life, with the exception of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (since in his term there were more than five). President Giorgio Napolitano appointed Professor Mario Monti on November 9, 2011 and conductor Claudio Abbado, researcher Elena Cattaneo, architect Renzo Piano and Nobel-laureate physicist Carlo Rubbia on August 30, 2013. The president who appointed the highest number of senators for life was Luigi Einaudi, who made eight appointments during his term.

List of Italian senators for life

As of 16 September 2016, there are five life senators in office:

Former senators for life:


In Burundi, former heads of state serve in the Senate for life. At present there are three of these: Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, Pierre Buyoya, and Domitien Ndayizeye.[4][5]

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The 2006 constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo grants lifetime membership in the Senate to former Presidents of the Republic.[6] As of 2011, there are no former presidents alive.

The 1964 Congolese constitution also provided for life membership in the Senate for former Presidents.[7]


Former Presidents of the Republic, except for those who were impeached from office, are granted the speaking-but-non-voting position of senator for life.[8]


The Rwandan constitution permits former Presidents of the country to become members of the Senate if they wish, by submitting a request to the Supreme Court.[9]

Former systems


In a manner reminiscent of the British parliament, members of the Canadian Senate were appointed for life. Since the Constitution Act, 1965, however, senators must retire upon reaching the age of 75. Though senators appointed before the amendment were grandfathered in by the legislation, there are no longer any lifetime senators present in the Canadian Senate. Orville Howard Phillips, the last senator for life, resigned his seat in 1999.


In France, during the Third Republic, the Senate was composed of 300 members, 75 of which were inamovible ("unremovable"). Introduced in 1875, the status was abolished for new senators in 1884, but maintained for those already in office. Émile Deshayes de Marcère, the last surviving sénateur inamovible, died in 1918. Overall there had been 116 lifetime senators.[10]

In 2005, there was questioning about the status of former Presidents of the Republic. According to the constitution of the Fifth Republic, former presidents are de jure members of the Constitutional Council, which poses a problem of possible partiality. Some members of Parliament and commentators suggested that it should be replaced by a life membership in the Senate.[11][12] This proposal was, however, not enacted.


The 1923 Constitution instituted the membership by right (senator de drept) in the Senate for:

The membership by right was maintained under the 1938 Constitution and it was abolished together with the Senate on July 15, 1946, by the Communist Party-dominated government of Petru Groza.

The current constitution of Romania, although it re-established the bicameral parliament in 1991, did not reinstate the office of senator by right.

South and Central America

The constitutions of a number of countries in South America have granted former presidents the right to be senator for life (senador vitalicio), possibly recalling the entirely unelected Senate of Simón Bolívar's theory (see Bolivar's tricameralism). Most of these countries have since excised these provisions as they are increasingly seen as antidemocratic. The Constitution of Paraguay still has such a provision. Former presidents are permitted to speak but not vote. Probably the most familiar case is that of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1998–2002) whose parliamentary immunity protected him from prosecution for human rights violations until the Chilean Supreme Court revoked it in 2000.


The senators of the Empire of Brazil were appointed for lifetime (1826–1889). The emperor appointed the senator for each constituency from a list of three, indirectly elected, candidates. For details, see Senate of Brazil: History

There were about 250 senators of the Empire of Brazil. For the list of senators, see pt:Lista de senadores do Brasil


Under its 1979 Constitution, José Luis Bustamante y Rivero, Fernando Belaúnde Terry and Alan García Pérez were the only ones to hold that position, before the adoption of the Constitution of 1993, which eliminated the Senate and established a unicameral Congress.


A variation of the "senator for life" theme existed in the Somali Republic (1960–1969). While the 1960 constitution did not provide for a senate (the legislature, known as the National Assembly, was unicameral), it did grant lifetime membership in the legislature to ex-Presidents of the Republic.[15]

See also


  1. Napolitano was senator for life before becoming president
  2. Leone was senator for life from 1967 to 1971 by appointment and from 1978 to his death (2001) ex officio, as former president.
  3. Toscanini was appointed on 5 December 1949, but declined the next day.
  4. "Post-transition Senators list", Burundian Senate website (French).
  5. "The Senate composition", Burundian Senate website (French).
  6. Constitution de la République démocratique du Congo, Article 104 (paragraph 6): "Les anciens Présidents de la République élus sont de droit sénateurs à vie." (Loosely translated, this means "Former Presidents of the Republic are senators by right for life.") Source
  7. République démocratique du Congo, Constitution du 1er août 1964, Article 75 (paragraph 4): "En sus des sénateurs visés au 2e alinéa du présent article, font de droit, partie à vie du Sénat les anciens présidents de la République."
  8. Constitution of the Republic of Paraguay, 1992, Article 189 (subsection 1): "(1) Former presidents of the Republic who were democratically elected will be national senators for life, except for those who were impeached from office.
    (2) They will not count toward a quorum. They will have the right to speak, but not to vote."
  9. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, Article 82, section 5° (second paragraph): "Former Heads of State who honourably completed their terms or voluntarily resigned from office become members of the Senate by submitting a request to the Supreme Court." Source
  10. Les sénateurs inamovibles
  11. La Chiraquie veut protéger son chef quand il quittera l'Elysée, Libération, 14 January 2005
  12. See also the constitutional amendment proposals by senator Patrice Gélard
  13. Mr. Frei retained his senate seat by being democratically elected in the December 2005 parliamentary elections and was President of the Senate from 2006 to 2008.
  14. "The former presidents of the republic who held the presidency by direct popular vote shall be life members of the Senate; and the presidential candidate of the party that obtained second place in the corresponding popular vote shall be a member of the Senate for the term for which he was nominated." Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua, 1974. Article 127, second paragraph.
  15. Constitution of the Somali Republic, 1960. Article 51 ("National Assembly"), paragraph 4: "Whoever has been President of the Republic shall become a deputy for life as of right, in addition to the elected deputies, provided that he has not been convicted of any of the crimes referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 76."

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