WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?
The word ‘Democracy’ has been derived from a Greek word ‘Demokratic’. ‘Demos’ means people and ‘Kratia’ means rule. So, democracy is the rule by the people.
(a) Common Features of Democratic government and Non-democratic government:Fig: Features of democracy
(i) Government formed by people’s representatives.
(ii) Representatives elected in a free and fair election.
(iii) Different decisions of the government are taken in an open manner; debate in media, invitation to experts’ opinion, representations by the common man form a part of decision making process.
(iv) Citizens have a right to oppose and citizen any government action and policy.
(v) Citizens have a right to protest, as long as the mode of protest is within the boundaries of law.
(i) Rule by force, by a person or by a group of persons.
(ii) No opposition is permitted.
(iii) No criticism of government views or of rulers is tolerated.
(iv) Decisions are taken in an arbitrary manner, without reference to any rules or laws.
(v) Citizens have no rights.
(vi) Citizens cannot resort to any method of protest.
FEATURES OF MACRO
(a) Major decisions by elected leaders:
A democratic government is one in which the people’s representatives participate in decision making process. They own a collective responsibility for all the decisions taken by the government. There are example where representatives of people are chosen; but they are not allowed to participate in decision making process. Fig: Pervez MusharrafThis happens in many dictatorships and monarchies, e.g., currently in Pakistan under General Musharraf. in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf acquired power in October 1999 through an military cop. In Pakistan though they formally have an elected parliament and government but the real power is with those who are not elected. Not withstanding the existence of elected national and provincial assemblies, these countries can not be classified as a democratic country. This gives us the first feature. in a democracy the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people.
(b) A Democracy must be based on a free and fair election:
“In China, elections are regularly held after 5 years for electing the country’s parliament, but still it cannot be called democratic country”
(i) In China, elections are regularly held after five years for electing the Country’s parliament, called Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui (National People’s Congress).
(ii) The National People’s Congress has the power to appoint the President of the country
(iii) It has nearly 3000 members elected from all over China. Some members are elected by the army.
(iv) Before contesting elections, a candidate needs the approval of the Chinese Communist Party.
(v) Only those who are members of the Chinese Communist Party or eight smaller parties allied to it were allowed to contest election held in 2002-03.
(vi) The government is always formed by the Communist Party.
(vii) If China had multi party elections, an opposition party and an independent press then so many people may not have died during the famine of 1958-1961.
" Since its independence in 1930, Mexico holds elections after every six years to elect its president. The country has never been under military or dictator’s rule. But still it cannot be called democratic country"
Free and fir election is the basic feature of democracy but in Mexico this is not so:
In Mexico until 2000, every election was won by party called PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Opposition parties did contest elections, but never managed to win. The PRI was known to use many dirty tricks to win elections.
All those who were employed in government offices had to attend its party meetings. Teachers of government schools used to force parents to vote for the PRI. Media largely ignored the activities of opposition political parties except to criticize them.
Sometimes the polling booths were shifted from one place to another in the last minute, which made it difficult for people to cast their votes. The PRI spent a large sum of money in the campaign for its candidates.
Here we have the second feature of Democracy. Holding elections of any kind is not sufficient. The elections must offer a real choice between political alternatives. and it should be possible for people to use this choice to remove the existing rulers, if they wish so. So, a democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.
(c) One person, one vote, one value:
A true democracy grants its citizens what is called ‘universal adult franchise’. it means all the adults have a right to vote without any discrimination based on sex, color, race, caste or class. Each person can cast one vote; all votes are counted; the person who gets the maximum number of votes gets elected in many countries, this is not how the system works. There are many instances of denial of equal right to vote:
(i) In Saudi Arabia women do not have the right to vote.
(ii) Estonia has made its citizenship rules in such a way that people belonging to Russian minority find it difficult to get the right to vote.
(iii) In Fiji, the electoral system is such that the vote of an indigenous Fiji has more value than that of an Indian-Fijian.
That given us the third feature of democracy: in a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.
(d) Rule of Law and respect for rights:Fig: Rule of law( Respect)(i) In Zimbabwe elections are held regularly but are won by only one party i.e. Zanu-PF. the party uses unfair practices in elections which are against the principles of democracy.
(ii) Over the years President Mugabe has changed the constitution several times to increase the powers of the president and make him less accountable.
(iii) In a democracy people and opposition can criticize the government but this is not allowed in Zimbabwe.
(iv) The government has ignored some court judgments which is also against the principles of democracy.
(v) Television, radio and press are controlled by the government.
The example of Zimbabwe shows that popular approval of the rulers is necessary in a democracy, but it is not sufficient. Popular government can be undemocratic. Popular leaders can be autocratic. In a democracy, the state should respect some basic rights of the citizen. They should be free to think, to have opinions, to express these in public, to form associations, to protest and take other political actions.
Everyone should be equal in the eyes of law. These rights must be protected by an independent judiciary whose orders are obeyed by everyone. A democratic government cannot do whatever it likes, simply because it has won an election. It has to respect some basic rules. In particular it has to respect some guarantees to the minorities. Every major decision has to go through a series of consultations.
The fourth and final feature of democracy:
"A democracy government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizens rights."
(e) Summary Definition:
Democracy is a form of government in which:
(i) Rulers elected by the people take all the major decisions;
(ii) Elections offer a choice and fair opportunity to the people to change the current rulers;
(iii) This choice and opportunity is available to all the people on an equal basis; and
(iv) The exercise of this choice leads to a government limited by basic rules of the constitution and citizens rights.
(a) Arguments in support of democracy:
(i) A democratic government is a better government because it is a more accountable form of government.
(ii) Democracy provides a method the quality of decision-making.
(iii) Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.
(iv) Democracy enhances the dignity of citizens.
(v) Democracy is better than other forms of government because it allows us to correct its own mistakes.
(vi) Democracy is considered the best form of government.
(b) Arguments against the democracy:
(i) Leaders keep changing in a democracy. This leads to instability.
(ii) Democracy is all about political competition and power play. There is no scope for morality.
(iii) So many people have to be consulted in a democracy that it leads to delays.
(iv) Elected leaders do not know the best interest of the people. It leads to bad decisions.
(v) Democracy leads to corruption for it is based on electoral competition.
(vi) Ordinary people do not know what is good for them; they should not decide anything.
BROADER MEANINGS OF DEMOCRACY?
Fig: Democracy(a) Representative Democracy, its importance:
A representative democracy is one in which people elect their representative to legislatures. These representatives in turn form the government and govern. In this type of democracy, a majority is allowed to take decisions on behalf of all the people.
Representative democracy becomes necessary because of the following reasons:
(i) Modern Democracies involve such a large number of people that it is physically impossible for them to sit together and take a collective decision.
(ii) Even if they could, the citizen does not have the time, the desire or the skills to take part in all the decisions.
(b) Nominal democracy and ideal democracy:
A nominal democracy, as we normally use the term, refers to a system of governance which is run by the people’s elected representatives.
An ideal democracy is a broader concept. An ideal democracy is a system in which every citizen must be able to play equal role in decision making. For this one does not need just equal right to vote.
Every citizen needs to have equal information, basic education, equal resources and a lot of commitment. There may not be any country in the world which passes this test of democracy. Yet an understanding of democracy as an ideal reminds us of why we value democracy.
ROLE OF THE CITIZENS PLAYED IN A DEMOCRACY
Citizens must learn to tolerate differences and views of all others who disagree with them. That is, the citizens must accept the principle of mutual tolerance and dissent. Citizens must act with a sense of discipline and responsibility. They have a right to express their dissent. They must express their grievance through channels provided by the democratic system. Citizens must participate and seek to influence Th public opinion. This can happen only when they are well-informed on civic matters. Citizens must exercise their right to vote. This provides a direction to the whole democratic process.Fig: Voting is the biggest role of citizenDEMOCRACY A GOVERNMENT BY DISCUSSION AND PERSUASION
It is a government by discussion because of the following reasons:
(i) Policy matters are decided after through discussion; in absence of consensus, the majority view prevails.
(ii) Majority view is respected and given due consideration during discussion.
(iii) Majority view is heard and not shut down by force.
It is a government by persuasion because:
(i) The opposition is encouraged to participate in debates about government policies and programs.
(ii) During the discussion opponents are persuaded to accept the government viewpoint.
(iii) At times the government itself may see merit in what the opposition has to say and accept it.