Democracy has been defined as ‘the Government of the people, by the people, and for the people’. It is the only form of Government in which the will of the people is reflected in the administration.
In other forms of Government such as monarchy, oligarchy, etc. all the power is concentrated in the hands of one person or group of persons who carry on the administration irrespective of people’s wishes. Even if those types of Government are conducted in the interest of the people, since the people have no connection with the administration, they cannot feel very happy under them.
But though the masses are connected with the Government in a democracy, they cannot, obviously all of them, take an active part in the conduct of the Government.
There was, of course, a time when the number of people in a State was limited and then such a method was possible and people could assemble in one place and take decision on all important matters by majority vote. This was the rule in the city-States of ancient Greece.
But now with the phenomenal increase of population in each State, it is not possible for each and every person in a State to take an active part in its administration. So people have to be represented by persons of their choice, to speak for them in the House of legislature and to keep watch over the activities of the Government.
The next question that arises is, who are the people who can be safely entrusted with leadership in a democracy. A leader should identify himself with the people whom he professes to serve. It is his business to reflect the wishes and frustrations of the people in the council of the nation. Rich or poor whatever he may be, devoted service to the people is the first requisite for leadership in a democracy.
The historical evolution of democracy is an interesting study. In most of the cities in early Europe the Government seems to have been at first monarchical also. But arrogance and oppression provoked rising which in many cases ended by vesting power ion all the free voters.
The weakness of democracy should not be left out of consideration. This form of government attaches greater importance to quantity than to quality and since every person does not possess the same amount of political talents, a democratic government cannot ensure better administration of public affairs.
Further this form of government lacks stability and is not favorable to the development of art, science and culture. But whatever good or evil is the outcome of democracy, people, being more politically conscious nowadays, favor a democratic Government.
A democracy means rule by the people. The name is used for different forms of government, where the people can take part in the decisions that affect the way their community is run. In modern times, there are different ways this can be done:
- The people meet to decide about new laws, and changes to existing ones. This is usually called direct democracy.
- The people elect their leaders. These leaders take this decision about laws. This is commonly called representative democracy. The process of choosing is called election. Elections are either held periodically, or when an officeholder dies.
- Sometimes people can propose new laws or changes to existing laws. Usually, this is done using a referendum, which needs a certain number of supporters.
- The people who make the decisions are chosen more or less at random. This is common, for example when choosing a jury for a trial. This method is known as sortition or allotment. In a trial, the jury will have to decide the question whether the person is guilty or not. In Europe, trials with a jury are only used for serious crimes, such as murder, hostage taking or arson.
To become a stable democracy, a state usually undergoes a process of democratic consolidation.
Elections[change | change source]
After people hold an election, the candidates that won are determined. The way this is done can be simple: The candidate with the most votes gets elected. Very often, the politicians being elected belong to a political party. Instead of choosing a person, people vote for a party. The party with the most votes then picks the candidates.
Usually, the people being elected need to meet certain conditions: They need to have a certain age or a government body needs to determine that they are suitably qualified to perform the job.
Not everyone can vote in an election. Suffrage is only given to people who are citizens. Some groups may be excluded, for example prisoners.
For some elections, a country may make voting compulsory. Someone who does not vote, and who does not give a good reason usually has to pay a fine.
Kinds of democracy[change | change source]
Democracy may be direct or indirect.
In a direct democracy, everyone has the right to make laws together. One modern example of direct democracy is a referendum, which is the name for the kind of way to pass a law where everyone in the community votes on it. Direct democracies are not usually used to run countries, because it is hard to get millions of people to get together all the time to make laws and other decisions. There is not enough time.
In an indirect, or representative democracy, people choose representatives to make laws for them. These people can be mayors, councilmen, members of Parliament, or other government officials. This is a much more common kind of democracy. Large communities like cities and countries use this method, but it may not be needed for a small group.
History[change | change source]
Ancient origins[change | change source]
This kind of government was developed long ago by the ancient Greeks in classical Athens. They had everyone who was a citizen (not slaves, women, foreigners, and children) get together in one area. The Assembly would talk about what kinds of laws they wanted and voted on them. The Council would suggest the laws. All citizens were allowed in the Assembly.
The Council were picked by draws (lottery). The participants in the Council would change every year and the number of people in the Council was at the most 500. For some offices the Athenian citizens would pick a leader by writing the name of their favorite candidate on a piece of stone or wood. The person with the most votes became the leader.
Middle Ages[change | change source]
In the Middle Ages, there were many systems in which there were elections, although only a few people could join in at this time. The Parliament of England began from the Magna Carta, a document which said that the King's power was limited, and protected certain rights of the people. The first elected parliament was De Montfort's Parliament in England in 1265.
However, only a few people could actually join in. Parliament was chosen by only a few percent of the people (in 1780, fewer than 3% of people joined in). The ruler also had the power to call parliaments. After a long time, the power of Parliament began to grow. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the English Bill of Rights 1689 made Parliament more powerful. Later, the ruler became a symbol instead of having real power.