Democracy is a form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people.
Features of Democracy
(i) Major decisions are taken by elected leaders.
(ii) In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf led a military camp in October 1999 and overthrew a democratically elected government and became the chief executive of the country.
(iii) Later, he changed his designation to president.
(iv) In 2002, he issued a “Legal Framework Order” that suggested that the President could dismiss the national or provincial assemblies.
(v) The work of the civilian cabinet was supervised by National Security Council which was dominated by military officers.
(vi) Elections were held to the National and State Assemblies
(vii) The elected leaders had some powers. But the final power rests with the military officers and General Musharral.
(viii) So, Pakistan under General Musharraf cannot be called a democracy. Because the elected rulers cannot take the final decisions.
(ix) In a democracy, the final decision making power must rest with those elected by the people.
One Person, One Vote, One Value
- Many instances of denial of equal right to vote in the world :
(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.
- Democracy is based on a fundamental principle of political equality.
- In a democracy, each adult citizen must have one vote and each vote must have one value.
Rule of Law and Respect for Rights
(i) Zimbabwe attained independence from white minority rule in 1980.
(ii) Since then the country has been ruled by ZANU-PF, the party that led the freedom struggle.
(iii) Its leader Robert Mugabe has been ruling the country since independence.
(iv) Elections have been held regularly and always won by ZANU-PF.
(v) President Mugabe is popular but also uses unfair practices in elections.
(vi) Opposition party workers are harassed and their meeting disrupted.
(vii) Public protests and demonstrations against the government are declared illegal.
(viii) There is a law that limits the right to criticise the President.
(ix) Both print and electronic media are controlled by the government and give only the ruling party’s version.
(x) Popular governments and popular leader like, Mugabe can be autocratic.
(xi) People should be free to think, to have opinions, to express these in public, to form associations, to protest.
(xii) The state should protect some basic rights and take other political actions.
(xiii) Everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law.
(xiv) Democratic government has to respect some basic rules and it has to respect some guarantees to the minorities.
(xv) In democracy, every major decision has to go through a series of consultations.
(xvi) A democratic government rules within limits set by constitutional law and citizen’s rights.
Free and Fair Electoral Competition
(i) In China, election are held every five years for electing the country’s Parliament called National Peoples Congress.
(ii) The national people’s congress has the power to appoint the president of the country.
(iii) Before contesting elections, a candidate needs the approval of the Chinese Communist Party.
(iv) Only those who are member of the Chinese Communist Party or eight smaller parties allied to it were allowed to contest elections held in 2002-03.
(v) The government is always formed by the Communist Party.
(vi) Mexico holds elections after every six years to elect its president. Until 2000, every election was won by a party called PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The PRI was known to we many dishonest tricks to win the election. In reality, people had no choice.
(vii) In China the elections do not offer the people any serious choice. They have to choose the ruling party and the candidates approved by it.
(viii) Holding elections are not sufficient. The elections must offer a real choice between political alternatives.
(ix) A democracy must be based on free and fair elections where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.
Arguments Against 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 interests 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.
(vii) Democracy leads to frequent changes in leadership. Sometimes this can set back big decisions and effect the government’s efficiency.
Arguments for Democracy (Merits)
(i) Democracy is better than any other form of government in responding to the needs of the people.
(ii) A democratic government is a better government because it is a more accountable form of government.
(iii) Democracy improves the quality of decision making.
(iv) Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts.
(v) Democracy enhances the dignity of citizens.
(vi) Democracy is better than other forms of government because it allows us to correct its own mistakes.
Broader Meaning of Democracy
(i) The most common form of democracy is representative democracy.
(ii) A majority is allowed to take decision on behalf of all the people.
(iii) Modern democracies involve such a large number of people that it is physically impossible to sit together and take collective decisions. Thus we have representative democracy.
(iv) Some times we use democracy for organisations other than the government. A democratic decision involves consultation with and consent of all those who are affected by that decision. Those who are not powerful should have the same say in taking the decisions as those who are powerful. This can apply to a government or a family or any other organisation. Thus, democracy is a principle that can be applied to any sphere of life.
(v) Sometimes we use the word democracy not to describe any existing government but to set up an ideal standard that all democracies must aim to become.
(vi) Democracy depends on active political participation by all the citizens. Thus a study of democracy must focus on democratic politics.