What is Democracy?
Democracy is a type of political system in which power lies in the hands of the people such as choosing their representatives (i.e. government) through periodic elections. For e.g. Nepal, India, etc. have democracy.
It is the most civilized and one of the best types of the political system in which the supreme power is vested in the hands of countries’ people.
The term ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek words ‘demo’ meaning ‘people’ and ‘kratia’ meaning ‘power’. Thus, democracy refers to the government of the people or the power exercised by the people. In a democracy, people are the only legitimate source of power that can choose and change the government according to their will. Hence, it can be understood as the appointment of leaders (i.e. representatives) by the people through honest and competitive elections.
In a democratic political system, the elected representatives formulate the budget, policies, and programs and carry out the programs through a network of appointed officials. Modern nation-states prefer democratic forms of government that recognize the sovereignty of the people.
According to Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people.”
The characteristics, features, or elements of democracy are;
Regular, free, and fair elections: Elections are free and open to all citizens of the voting age. There are periodic elections that are held at regular intervals. The periodic election ensures the rule of popular will.
Transparency and absence of corruption: There is transparency about the activities of the government and government bodies which helps to reduce the abuse of power i.e. corruption.
Rule of law: The state is governed/ruled by law, not an individual. If individual rules exist, it takes the form of autocracy.
Peace and security: Democracy ensures peace and security of the people. It believes that development is possible only when peace prevails.
Responsive and accountable government: The government is accountable to its citizens as it is people who help to form the government. In addition, the government provides regular responses in case of any issues/ problems of the people.
Citizen Participation: One of the most basic signposts of a democracy is citizen participation in government.
Political freedom: There is individual liberty (freedom) and freedom of choice to form a government. It means people are granted the political rights to determine and change constitutional order and ensure the protection of human rights.
Equality of citizenship: Equality is guaranteed for all citizens i.e. all people are equal before the law. The law applies equally to all people despite their position, race, color, religious or political beliefs, etc. Men and women are also granted equality of rights.
Formation of state bodies: This implies the formation of authorities and local government through the people’s will and elections. In a democratic state, the same people should not permanently occupy positions in government bodies for a long time: this causes distrust of citizens and leads to a loss of legitimacy of these bodies.
Separation of powers among the state organs: The main organs of the state such as legislative, executive, and judicial are made independent and their power and functions are also separate.
Decision-making by the will of the majority with the mandatory guarantee of rights of the minority: It means that in democracy, although the decisions are made according to the will of the majority, the rights of the minority are guaranteed. Hence, there is the absence of discrimination and suppression of the rights of an individual who falls in a minority group.
Pluralism: Democracy is based on the principle of pluralism. It means that there is acceptance of diverse social phenomena, range of political choice and parties, various opinions, public associations, etc.
Functions of Democracy
Democracy is the government of the people, by the people for the people of a country. The function of democracy is manifold. However, the main functions of democracy can be listed as follows;
- It gives its people freedom of speech, right to live and work.
- Allows people to follow religions of their choice with full independence.
- Enable people to be people rather than slaves by protecting human rights.
- Avoids all illegal activities which are detrimental for peaceful living.
- Allows people to make an effective and powerful choice. i.e. checks and balances to ensure that elected representatives respect the people’s wishes and don’t become dictators or else remove the leader that isn’t doing an effective job.
- Democracy establishes environment where there is presence of organizational links between democracy players i.e. among government bodies, state organizations, public associations, trade unions etc.
- It ensures formation of public authorities and local self-government bodies by democratic means i.e. through elections.
- Ensures the activities of state bodies are in accordance with the requirements of national legal acts.
- Democracy makes provision of security, honor, and dignity by state bodies.
Direct (also called ‘participation democracy’) democracy: Participation democracy is the system of government in which all the people directly govern the state. The citizens meet in person to discuss issues and make decisions and this type only works in small Communities. Ancient Greece (i.e. in Athens), Swiss ‘Cantons’ etc. are its examples.
Indirect (also called ‘representative democracy’) democracy: Representative democracy is a system of government in which all eligible citizens vote to elect people called ‘representatives’ who makes laws for the people and the final authority is in the hands of the citizens to choose leaders and make laws. A perfect example is Nepal, where they elect members of parliament (i.e. cur leaders) and even the local and state officials through an election.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Democracy
In the modern world, Democracy is the most widely accepted form of government. However, democracies have both the pros and cons as follows;
Advantages/Merits/Pros of Democracy
Responsible and Accountable Government: The democratic form of government is run by the people’s elected representatives. It means, it is the people of the democratic country who rule the country through their representatives. Therefore, the elected representatives act responsibly for the well-being of the citizens of the country.
Inclusive Representation: Democracy provides the ideal ground for people to choose their respective leaders irrespective of caste, creed, sex, and even race.
Freedom to common people: It provides freedom to people as a fundamental right. In a democratic nation, everyone is free to express his opinions, and although occasionally there may be restrictions on individuals, personal liberty is the goal of democracy. There is more freedom in a democracy than in any other form of government.
Equal and fair justice: In a democracy, no one is above the law, everyone is equal before the law. So, equal justice is possible for all.
Development and prosperity for all: It ensures development and prosperity for all. Democracy brings the greatest good for the largest number of people. It can realize the concept of the welfare state where every man or woman can claim the right to food, education, and employment.
Popular sovereignty: The supreme power is vested in the hands of the common people of the country. If the elected representatives act irresponsibly, then they can be dropped in the next election. Hence, democracy ensures the sovereignty of the people.
Sense of cooperation and fraternal feeling: Every citizen, men or women, rich or poor, is considered equal in the eyes of law. The feeling of unity, oneness, and cooperation is the basis of democracy. The dignity and honor of every individual are protected without any discrimination.
Disadvantages/Demerits/Cons of Democracy
Or, The Reasons of Failing Democracy,
Democracy is the best form of government so far found, but it is not without its defects and its critics. In ancient times when states were smalls, men would gather in a particular place and decide even-thing by vote.
Some disadvantages and reasons why democracies fail are;
Personal interest over national interest: The sole motto of the politicians is to get into power and cling to it. There are very few leaders who work for the benefit of the country. In a representative democracy, the elected representative is usually found to be a power-loving person. They work for their personal and ignore the interest of the nation.
Lack of educated and experienced voters: A large number of uneducated voters who generally have the least political experience participate in the election process. They easily become victims of Powerful people who deceive them with large promises and use them for their own private ends.
Corruption: In a democratic county, there is a chance of corruption as the lowest level does not complain about the higher level for corruption as both involve in abuse of power i.e. corruption.
Freedom to all shades of opinion: Another charge against democracy is that as it gives freedom of expression to all the shades of opinion. It easily leads to the formation of parties, and party government only means talk and talk and talk, democratic parliaments being more or less dignified debating societies.
Delay in the decision-making process: In a democracy, power is not centralized which results in delays in the decision-making process. Since a number of formalities are to be observed in the decision-making and adopting process, oftentimes it becomes difficult to take quick measures in the best interest of the country. This acts as a hurdle for the economic growth and development of the nation.
Political Instability: There is frequent change in the government that leads to political instability. Hence, the country cannot run development and welfare programs and projects effectively.
Family/Dynastic Politics: In many countries, it is seen that the grandparents and grandchildren of the same family are positioned for power. The dynasty families make up a party and all their party workers work for them. People vote for them without thinking about the consequences for the future under the influence of the media, cadres, and their past legacy.
Chances of an unqualified person as a leader: There is a chance of an unqualified person becoming the representative (leader). During the election, the public brain is washed by politicians using different means such as money, protest, and strikes for publicity. So, an unqualified person from a majority party may be elected over the qualified person from a minority party.