We can define democracy as a government in which the people participate directly in governance or through their elected representatives. It is also a system of government whereby the citizens of a country are actively involved in decision making, and are ruled by a set of generally accepted norms and laws. Every democratic system has some principles on which they stand, from the old democracy to the modern day democracy. The first of these principles is the citizen rule. This is simply the role of the citizens (adult citizens, in most democracies, persons above the age of 18) in governance. Citizens can participate in governance by voting in local, state, and national elections; campaigning for a candidate, participating in a political discussion, signing a petition, lobbying for laws that are a special interest, holding public office, serving the country through military or other service and so on. It is indeed every citizen’s responsibility to participate actively in governance without any interference.
Democracy is a system of government that has long existed since the 18th century, brought about by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The major idea behind democracy is the participation of citizens in the decision making of the state or country. Democracy started out quite small, in the sense that it was first used by a city, Athens, to be precise. It was the regime of a city. Over time democracy has evolved to what we can term modern democracy. The difference is that in the old democracy, individuals directly voted people into power without necessarily having representatives. The people got to participate personally in all important decisions. They regulated the working of the government continuously through instruments such as referendums, plebiscites, right to recall the elected government or member for not performing as expected. You would note that they continuously had the power to guide their representatives and make their opinions count. This was possible because there was no universal franchise in Athens and it was relatively small; at least smaller than an average city today. In what we term modern day democracy, we practice the representative democracy, also known as indirect democracy, in which we vote for representatives who then stand for our views and vote for us on community issues or any other matter that involves general decision making. The core of the representative democracy is size. Most countries are too large and quite complicated for the Athenian democracy (direct democracy) to work within their political boundaries. People preferred to elect representatives on their behalf, rather than vote on every single issue. These representatives meet to form a governing body such as a legislature. The legislature is a branch of government having the power to make laws and can also amend or retract them.
Another hallmark and cardinal principle on which democracy stands is free and fair election. There is a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections which are held at regular intervals. All adult citizens have the right to cast their votes which ensures that the will of the people will be expressed. A third principle is the majority rule and the minority rights. In this principle, most of the political decisions are derived from the will of the majority in which the rights of the minorities must be protected. The rights of the minority have to be protected no matter how isolated they may be. Democracies also value the protection of the human rights of all citizens. People have certain basic rights that the government cannot take away from them, and these rights are recognized universally and are definite. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to protection from unauthorized search and seizure, are examples of individual liberties that are recognized and should be obtained in democracies. The rule of law is another principle that democracies cannot do without. It simply implies the control of arbitrary exercise of power by the formal establishment of laws and norms on which the society may stand. The laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens irrespective of status. It is often said that ‘the Law is no respecter of persons’. These are a few of the principles or elements by which any democratic society is governed by.
Why Democracy is important
Democracy is important for many reasons. One of the reasons for which democracy is important is development. Most of the developed nations of the world are democratic nations. Beginning from Norway, which currently is the most developed country in the world, to other nations such as Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, and Denmark and so on; all are democratic nations. Out of the first ten most developed nations of the world, six of them have applied true democracy in their government. One may ask how democracy has affected these nations positively to become developed nations. Democracy aided them in applying the principle of equality of all citizens which gave them room to try more competent hands because no one was being discriminated against. Equal opportunities were given to everyone to be part and parcel of the political system. Concepts like only Adult Male Suffrage were abolished in favor of all-inclusive participation. Their systems also, were such that no leader was considered above the law and every leader respects the people’s choices or rights; leading to a very healthy relationship between the people and the lawmakers entirely. A country like Norway has embraced the honesty and transparency of their governments just as democracy supports. In these nations, it is quite difficult to find such wide gaps between their wealthiest citizens and the poorest citizens as you find in undeveloped nations. Note that this doesn’t imply that all undeveloped nations are non-democratic nations. Some are, but due to corruption and unequal relationships between the leaders and the people and some other factors, democracy is still yet to be expanded and practiced truly as in the developed nations.
Furthermore, democracy encourages economic development through investment in education and life expectancy through the provision of adequate healthcare. It allows education of every gender which in turn allows for the citizens to know their rights and use them accordingly; whether in making health care policies or education policies. The people can actively participate in choosing what is best for them. The people and the government are able to work together through their representatives to promote good educational policies that will benefit the people. Democracy helps provide the citizens with an education that raises their knowledge and skill levels leading to a boost in learning outcomes, thereby strengthening human capital. The human capital here refers to the skills and knowledge of citizens which when maximally utilized promotes economic growth, shared trust, and higher political participation. How then can a society not develop with this?
These are not the only ways democracy has helped improve the state of nations. It has helped too in moderately fighting poverty, hunger, and disease. It is well known that most of the developed nations that are democratic can be considered to be the happiest people in the world today. Democracy has also aided in reducing infant and maternal mortality, and in ensuring environmental sustainability and protection and so on. Democracy truly has supported sustainable development which makes it important to live in.
However, it will be unfair to state that democracy is perfect. Democracy does have its challenges certainly which include the minorities losing out to the majorities. Democracy supports majority rule and what the majority votes for or prefers may not necessarily be good for everyone thus leading to the minorities losing out. Also, in as much as democracy supports equality amongst citizens, whether rich or poor, the citizens with more money are likely to be candidates as compared to those with lesser money. Other challenges include short term policies as a result of limited time in power, low voter turnout .etc.
In my opinion, the advantages of democracy constantly outweigh the challenges of democracy thereby making democracy a safe system of government that is important for people to live in. The assumption that democracy once created would sustain itself is wrong. An electoral process, of which democracy offers, is only the beginning toward having a democratic society. Democracy remains important for people to live in, not just to live in but to constantly work towards means of development which is of a great benefit to them all.
Lastly, is democracy suitable for all countries to adopt? Certainly not, as each country has different needs and are run by diverse views too. But to every country that has adopted a form of democracy, significant improvement has been seen.